California Air National Guard Units Called In to Fight Wildfires

Aircrew and support from the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, California accomplished 4 retardant drops between November 13-14, 2018 over the Woolsey Fire. (California Air National Guard/ Staff Sgt. Nicole Wright)
Aircrew and support from the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, California accomplished 4 retardant drops between November 13-14, 2018 over the Woolsey Fire. (California Air National Guard/ Staff Sgt. Nicole Wright)

The California Air National Guard is assisting in firefighting efforts across the state as citizens flee two devastating wildfires, one of which is now the deadliest in California's history.

Two Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) C-130 Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing in Channel Islands are dropping thousands of gallons of fire retardant across the state as efforts to contain the Woolsey and Camp wildfires continue.

The MAFFS -- retrofitted C-130s that carry refillable tanks within their belly -- can drop 3,000 gallons in one location in just seconds, according to the Air Force. About 10 members from the 146th are also deployed with emergency crews for fire support.

Additionally, more than 100 guardsmen with the 163rd Attack Wing, March Joint Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California are working to gather intelligence, with operators flying an MQ-9 Reaper drone to surveil affected fire areas, Air National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Randy Saldivar said Friday.

The drone is helping to "provide full motion video to incident commanders along with fire mapping of the affected areas," Saldivar said in an email.

Another 25 or so guardsmen with the 163rd are also working in a relief capacity, he said.

Also involved:

  • An RC-26 surveillance aircraft from the 141st Air Refueling Wing mapping perimeters and damage assessment from the Camp and Woolsey Fires.
  • 10 members from the 144th Fighter Wing working as a "medical strike team," Saldivar said.
  • Guardsmen with 195th Wing out of Beale Air Force Base assisting citizens displaced by the Camp Fire, as well as managing intelligence feeds from the aerial surveillance and remain on standby for communications, Air Force Magazine said.
  • Roughly 25 California Air National Guard security forces members supporting security at the Chico airport fire operations center, according to Saldivar.

As of Friday, there were more than 600 people missing from areas affected by the Camp Fire in northern California. The death toll there has climbed to 66, CBS News reported.

Firefighters were still on the ground working to contain more than half the fire, which has so far burned 142,000 acres, according to statistics from the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection or "Cal Fire" page.

While nearly 70 percent of the fire is contained in southern California's Woolsey Fire, hundreds continued to evacuate this week.

Between both fires, nearly 12,500 buildings, including homes, have been destroyed.

In August, California was plagued with 15 simultaneous fires, including the Carr Fire and the Mendocino Complex Fire.

The 195th Wing at Beale and the 163rd Attack Wing out of March assisted in similar ways during those events, according to Air Force Times.

While Camp has been considered by officials to be more destructive, Mendocino was the result of two fires that merged, and ultimately became the largest fire in the state's history, burning more than 450,000 acres.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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