MCCLELLAN, Calif. — Summer firefighting in the western United States will get a big boost with the addition of two huge military transport planes equipped to do fire retardant drops on wildfires, the earliest they've been activated for fire season in a decade.
According to fire officials, the US Forest Service has activated two C-130 aircraft, both carrying Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems (MAFFS), sourced from the California and Nevada Air National Guard. They'll be based at McClellan Airbase in Sacramento starting on Saturday.
“These aircraft will help augment our aerial firefighting capabilities,” said Kim Christensen, deputy assistant director for operations for the Forest Service. “We’ve already reached National Preparedness Level 4 with elevated potential for significant wildfire activity in the western U.S.to further increase.”
Officials said that firefighting-capable military C-130s can provide critical "surge" capability for wildfire suppression when commercial airtankers are stretched thing. These type of aircraft were last activated this early in a fire season back in 2012, and were brought in a month later in 2020.
“Our aircraft and aircrews are ready to respond to requests for assistance,” said Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, commander of the First Air Force. “Our MAFFS-trained team of professionals recently completed annual aerial wildland firefighting training with the USDA Forest Service to ensure they are fully prepared for the wildfire season. We take to heart our team’s effort to help protect property and critical infrastructure, with the ultimate goal of saving lives.”
MAFFS equipment can drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in less than 10 seconds across a quarter-mile line, according to the Forest Service. The system slides into the back of the C-130, and the retardant is released through a nozzle on the rear left side.
On June 22, officials elevated the National Wildland Fire Preparedness Level to 4 out of 5 to reflect the increase in fire activity across the western US.