National Guard responds to Texas wildfires

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National Guard Bureau report
Wildfires
A C-130E Hercules from the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing drops water over the treetops in South Carolina during annual Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System training and certification
April 26 to April 30, 2010.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nicholas Carzis)

ARLINGTON, Va. (4/18/11) - Four National Guard states are today supporting civil authorities battling more than 30 wildfires threatening lives and property in Texas.

Drought conditions led to a reported 32 uncontrolled wildfires currently burning there.

Under the direction of the Joint Forces Air Component Commander for Air Forces Northern at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., four C-130 Hercules aircraft

equipped with firefighting capabilities are responding to the wildfires plaguing South Texas.

Texas National Guard Soldiers already are supporting civilian authorities with personnel and four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters using buckets to drop water in multiple counties, Guard officials reported.

The C-130s are basing their operations at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas.

Two of the four aircraft are from the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing; a third is from the Wyoming National Guard's 153rd AW and a fourth is from North Carolina's 145th AW.

California and North Carolina also are providing additional support aircraft, Guard officials reported. All are expected to arrive today to begin firefighting operations.

The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, or MAFFS, is a self-contained, reusable aerial firefighting system loaded into the cargo bay of a C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft, which effectively turns these airplanes into aerial firefighting tankers.

The system 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 60 feet wide. Once the load is discharged, it can be refilled in less than 12 minutes.

Typically, the aircraft will spray along the leading edge of a fire in order to check its advance. The fire retardant has fertilizer mixed in, in order to promote re-growth in a burned area.

If needed, MAFFS aircraft can also spray water directly onto a fire.

Four Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force Reserve units operate MAFFS.

To help alleviate the spread of fires, two additional MAFFS currently flying missions from Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, Texas, to Coahuila, Mexico, are also releasing retardant in Texas until the four relief C-130s arrive.

The MAFFS is owned by the USDA Forest Service, one of several federal and state government agencies and organizations with roles and responsibilities in wild land fire suppression that comprise the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

The Department of Defense is flying at the request of NIFC. NIFC requests a MAFFS activation only after committing all other aerial firefighting resources to a fire emergency.

Texas has been under a State Emergency Declaration since Dec. 21 because of the extreme dry weather and wildfires, National Guard officials reported. The declaration makes all state resources available to the Texas Emergency Management Agency.

The Texas wildfire support is one of numerous current National Guard domestic and overseas operations, National Guard officials reported.

Guard members respond to requests from their governors daily. Currently, they are providing flood support in Minnesota and North Dakota; screening for radiation in Guam; protecting critical infrastructure in New York; supporting the Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery in Louisiana and fulfilling other domestic missions.

In addition to local responses, the Guard is involved in Counterdrug operations and ongoing Southwest border operations in support of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Meanwhile, more than 45,000 Guard members are currently serving in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, the Sinai Desert and elsewhere.

Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill of the National Guard Bureau, Lt. Col. Susan A. Romano of AFNORTH and the North Carolina National Guard contributed.

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