Fire's fury presents challenges to MAFFS operationally, personally

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nichole Grady and Ann Skarban
  • 153rd Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
The flightline at Peterson Air Force base roared to life June 26 as the engines of four C-130 Hercules cranked up to begin day two of Modular Airborne Fire Fighting missions in Colorado.

The scene was reminiscent of a NASCAR pit with aircraft landing and refueling quickly before taking flight.

Today began the first full day of MAFFS operations in the fire fighting efforts in the Rocky Mountain area. Crews were faced with not only containing flames, but also enduring the elements. High temperatures in the 90s and fierce winds presented a challenge to the aerial fire fight.

As of 4 p.m., the MAFFS aircraft made 20 drops delivering an estimated 52,000 gallons of retardant in an effort to suppress the Waldo Canyon fire just west of Colorado Springs.

Unlike recent MAFFS activations, MAFFS air and ground crews could see the flames and smoke of the fire from the Peterson Air Force Base flightline.

Describing the MAFFS tanker base at Peterson AFB, the home of his C-130 unit, Maj. Greg Barry, 731st Expeditionary Airlift Squadron and MAFFS mission commander said, "Geographically, it is the best location. From a logistical stand, we have a great back-reach, we have all of the help you could ask for."

At about 4:00 p.m. MAFFS operations supporting the Waldo Canyon fire were halted as the U.S. Forest Service required an assessment of fire conditions as visibility had decreased due to smoke and high winds.

At the same time, the Waldo Canyon fire took a turn for the worse late in the afternoon, burning beyond containment lines and consuming numerous structures. Mandatory evacuations were expanded to include base housing at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

"We are all very concerned. This is getting very personal and very close to home. It's a whole new ball game and we want to do everything we can. People who are doing the mission are now being affected," said Barry.

MAFFS is a self-contained aerial firefighting system that can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds, covering an area one-quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide. Once the load is discharged, it can be refilled in less than 12 minutes.

In addition to the 153rd and 302nd Airlift Wings, two other Air National Guard units, the 146th AW, Port Hueneme, Calif., and the 145th AW, Charlotte, N.C., possess the ability to assist federal, state and local wildland fire fighting agencies and organizations with MAFFS.

The MAFFS program is a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Defense.