ARLINGTON, Va. – Aircrews from the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing, who fly C-130 Hercules aircraft equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System, are among the latest National Guard members to join in the response to wildfires in Oregon and Washington state.
The aircrews from the 153rd AW join Guard members from four states in assisting state and local authorities with quelling wildfires raging since lightning strikes ignited the blazes July 14. This also marks the first activation of MAFFS aircraft in the 2014 wildfire season.
“We’ve been activated to ensure the [U.S.] Forest Service has enough aerial assets to fight fires in Oregon, Washington and other regional states,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Davis, commander of the Wyoming Air Guard’s 153rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
The crews from the 153rd AW flew to Idaho from their home station in Wyoming to Gowen Field, near Boise, where they will be able to support firefighting efforts in Washington and Oregon.
“They provide a surge capability to civilian air tankers,” said Deirdre Forster, of the Wyoming National Guard. “They can drop fire retardant or water onto fires and they were relocated to Boise to [decrease] response time.”
Members of the Washington National Guard began responding July 16 with UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters, and members of the Oregon National Guard began responding with Black Hawk and Chinook aircraft to wildfires in that state July 18, National Guard Command Center officials said.
The Montana Army National Guard also has sent aircrews and CH-47 helicopters to assist with firefighting efforts in Washington.
“Our neighbors needed help,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Tim Crowe, with the Montana National Guard. “Just like Colorado did last year with the floods and we sent down an engineering unit to help with their natural disaster, we work with Washington as well.”
The wildfire response mission remains ongoing, and is projected to last for several weeks.
“We don’t have a timeline at this point,” Crowe said. “We sent out this first [aircrew and helicopters], and depending on the mission and the requirements, we’ll make adjustments as we move forward.”
The fires in Washington have burned through more than 300,000 acres and destroyed about 150 homes, according to reports. Meanwhile, fires in Oregon have burned roughly 530,000 acres.
Anticipated cooler temperatures and rains in the coming days may help in the effort, officials said, but Guard members stand ready to provide further assistance if needed.
“It’s what the National Guard is about -- helping each other out when disaster strikes,” Crowe said.