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NEWS | Aug. 20, 2012

California Army, Air Guard aviators engaged in state-wide wildfire fight

By Air National Guard Senior Airman Jessica Green California National Guard

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - With more than 210,000 acres of the state devastated from wildfires, California National Guard personnel continue to assist other local, state and federal agencies such as the California Emergency Management Agency and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in efforts to extinguish the fires.

According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, an agency which oversees all interagency coordination activities throughout the U.S., California had 13 fires burning across the state with varying levels of containment as of Aug. 16.

California Army and Air National Guard helicopter assets involved in the fight are stationed throughout the state ready to perform various wildfire missions such as water drops, medical evacuations and infrared mapping capabilities.

A Modular Airborne Firefighting System-equipped C-130 from the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing had been working alongside other Air National Guard and Reserve MAFFS airframes and crews from around the U.S. before being called back to assist at home Aug. 14.

"Our pilots and crew have been engaged for more than six weeks now, battling wildfires across nine different western states," said Air Force Col. Paul J. Hargrove, the 146th AW commander. "There are definitely mixed emotions about operating back in our home state now. We hate to see California ablaze, but our Airmen are proud to be able to come to the aid of their fellow citizens to protect lives and property."

Since being activated June 25, the entire Air Guard and Air Force Reserve MAFFS fleet has completed more than 701 drops and released more than 1.67 million gallons of retardant on fires in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

In California, MAFFS-equipped C-130s have completed 29 drop and have released more than 70,000 gallons of fire retardant on the wildfires here.

The joint assistance of the California Army and Air Guards has provided critical wildfire suppression to protect life and property throughout the state.

"Joint efforts between Army and Air Guard air crews have been seamless," said Air Force Maj. David Weidman, an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter pilot assigned to the 129th Rescue Squadron. "Our training in the off season has really allowed us to bring the [California National Guard's] full aerial firefighting capabilities to bear when our state needs us most."

The California Guard helicopter crews have flown nearly 213 hours and conducted more than 531 water bucket missions, dropping approximately 265,000 gallons of water across the state since being activated Aug. 7.

According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, an agency which oversees all interagency coordination activities throughout the U.S., California had 13 fires burning across the state with varying levels of containment as of Aug. 16.

"This has been a very busy fire season," said Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert Brockly, a standardization officer and pilot with C Company, 1-168th General Support Aviation Battalion. "Our crews are not only dropping water, but we're providing … medical evacuation capabilities as well. Our Black Hawks are very well-suited for the mission."

In addition to aerial assets, nearly 8,000 firefighters have been fighting the fires on the ground since the wildfires began, and California-based Marine Corps units have recently joined the fight, along with U.S. Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units from Colorado, North Carolina and Wyoming.

"These Guardsmen are leveraging their peace time training and war time deployment experience to make a difference right here at home," said Army Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, Adjutant General of the California National Guard. "We will continue to work with our civilian and military partners to protect Californians."

Today, National Guard members in Arizona, Texas and Washington are also providing wildfire suppression support in their states. In Texas, Guard members are conducting aerial fire suppression operations for the Rhodes Ranch 2 Fire in Palo Pinto County and the Lometa Ranch Fire in Lampasas County, TX.

In Washington, Guard members there have been responding to the Taylor Bridge wildfire, which has burned 22,787 acres and is 33% contained. That fire is 10 miles NW of Ellensburg, and as of Aug. 17, the Washington National Guard has dropped 271,280 gallons of water.