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Reservists prepare to fight wildfires in Pacific Northwest

Air Force Reserve aircrews and maintainers stand ready to fight wildfires using C-130 Hercules equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems, similar to this one.  The aircraft can drop up to 3000 gallons of retardant covering an area one-quarter of a mile long and 60 feet wide. (File photo)

Air Force Reserve aircrews and maintainers stand ready to fight wildfires using C-130 Hercules equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems, similar to this one. The aircraft can drop up to 3000 gallons of retardant covering an area one-quarter of a mile long and 60 feet wide. (File photo)

Air Force Reserve aircrews and maintainers stand ready to fight wildfires using C-130 Hercules equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems, similar to this one.  The aircraft can drop up to 3000 gallons of retardant covering an area one-quarter of a mile long and 60 feet wide. (File photo)

Air Force Reserve aircrews and maintainers stand ready to fight wildfires using C-130 Hercules equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems, similar to this one. The aircraft can drop up to 3000 gallons of retardant covering an area one-quarter of a mile long and 60 feet wide. (File photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Air Force Reserve Command's only airborne fire fighting unit is back on the road and ready to fight fires again.

Twenty-one members of the 302nd Airlift Wing boarded a C-130 Aug. 27 and headed for Klamath Falls, Ore., where they will stage Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System missions in an effort to help the U.S. Forest Service combat wildfires in the northwestern United States.

"There are numerous fires all over the Northwest," said Col. Karl A. Schmitkons, 302nd Operations Group commander. "They're just having a real hot, dry and windy period right now."

Aircrew members and maintenance personnel will fly a 302nd aircraft using a MAFFS unit belonging to the 153rd AW, an Air National Guard unit based in Cheyenne, Wyo. The 302nd AW has two MAFFS systems; however, both are currently undergoing system upgrades.

"We'll be working in conjunction with a Cheyenne crew and airplane that are already up there," said Colonel Schmitkons.

As wing members return home from deployments to Southwest Asia in support of U.S. Central Command operations, some will rotate into Oregon to assist with the MAFFS effort.

"The MAFFS mission ... there's enough of a draw to it that our people are willing to volunteer," said Colonel Schmitkons.

"Fighting forest fires is some of the best flying we do," said Maj. Corey Steinbrink, 731st Airlift Squadron flight commander and C-130 instructor pilot.

The 302nd AW flew just 14 MAFFS sorties in 2005 because of being activated in support of U.S. Central Command. In 2004, it conducted 308 drops in support of fire fighting operations in the southwestern Unites States. That year was one of the busiest seasons for the 302nd AW since it took on the MAFFS mission in 1993. The 302nd dropped more than 823,000 gallons of retardant while battling fires in Arizona, Colorado and Utah.

The 302nd AW was also activated in 2002 to fight the Hayman Fire west of Colorado Springs. During that blaze the Reserve unit and the three Air National Guard units activated for MAFFS staged out of Peterson AFB.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, directs MAFFS missions, and as of Aug. 31 the 302nd AW was still waiting to fly its first mission of the 2006 fire season.

"The 302nd hasn't flown any missions yet this year," said Rose Davis, USDA Forest Service public affairs officer.

The MAFFS allows aircraft and crews to drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant covering an area one-quarter of a mile long and 60 feet wide. The MAFFS resources are coordinated with ground-based fire fighting resources.

Officials in the 302nd AW expect to remain activated for MAFFS through September. (AFRC News Service)