PORT HUENEME, Calif. – The California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing installed four tanks to store fire retardant, vastly improving its ability to fight fires from the air in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The permanent ground tanks increase the surge capabilities for wildfire suppression agencies in Southern California as part of the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System known as MAFFS.
Previously, 146 AW ground crews were required to stop producing retardant at 10,000 gallons. The newly upgraded “MAFFS pits” were installed in March, just in time for fire season.
The upgraded MAFFS pits also provide fire retardant for very large air tankers, eliminating potential delays in reloading retardant for all aircraft.
The older tanks only allowed for up to three fire retardant reloads before there would be a significant delay due to the ground crews having to mix more retardant.
“We will now have a much larger and faster capability to deliver retardant to the local area, as the ground tank size has increased fivefold from a 10,000-gallon capacity to 50,000 gallons,” said Air National Guard Lt. Col. Andrew Miller, an eight-year MAFFS pilot with the 115th Airlift Squadron.
The new tanks are also enclosed, so retardant can be stored longer and be on hand when fires begin.
“There are few tanker bases available in the Southern California region with the capability to support large-scale aerial firefighting,” said Miller. “This meant that some reloading times for the MAFFS pits saw extensive delays. As a result, the MAFFS community saw a need for a more robust reload capability and came together to create a solution.
Channel Islands Air National Guard Station was selected because of its strategic location. It’s the first Air National Guard base with a permanent tank capacity of more than 10,000 gallons.
MAFFS is used as a surge capability for the Forest Service or CAL FIRE when commercial aerial firefighter units are unavailable. The 146 AW, Forest Service, CAL FIRE and other Department of Defense MAFFS wings have jointly battled wildfires since the early 1970s.
Each organization brings valuable resources to the MAFFS mission. The U.S. Forest Service, which owns the MAFFS units, provides the retrofitted system and buys the retardant. The DOD provides the C-130 aircraft, flight crews, maintenance, and support personnel to fly the missions. State wildfire agencies such as CAL FIRE provide critical tanker base support in unison with the rest of the MAFFS community.
An additional voice for the MAFFS community and deputy assistant director for fire and aviation for the U.S. Forest Service Kim Christensen says that the newly constructed MAFFS pits could ease logistic hurdles and improve the efficiency during a home station activation.
“We recognize the commitment the 146th Airlift Wing has made to the MAFFS program by making permanent modifications to their C-130 fleet to provide more efficient retardant deliveries when we need them the most,” said Kim Christensen with the Forest Service. “In the past several years, we have become increasingly more reliant on the surge capability of the MAFFS program, and these modifications will help us more efficiently support suppression efforts on the ground.”
Ron Skaggs of the National Guard Bureau called MAFFS pits “a game-changer” for the wildland firefighting community.
“By using the National Guard funding, the 146th was able to streamline the acquisition, installation and operation of this important firefighting system,” Skaggs said.
Annual MAFFS training began April 25, with the 146th Airlift Wing joining the 152nd Airlift Wing, the 153rd Airlift Wing, and the 302nd Airlift Wing in Boise, Idaho, to sharpen their skills for the next fire season.