Air Force Deploys Air Tankers to Battle Arizona Forest Fires

An aerial tanker drops fire retardant on a wildfires threatening homes near Yarnell, Ariz., Monday, July 1, 2013.

An aerial tanker drops fire retardant on a wildfires threatening homes near Yarnell, Ariz., Monday, July 1, 2013. Chris Carlson/AP

All four C-130s will be ready to fly Wednesday.

The Air Force has deployed four C-130 aerial tankers to Arizona, where they stand ready to help battle major forest fires, including an uncontrolled and raging blaze 85 miles northwest of Phoenix that killed 19 firefighters.

Each of the C-130s are equipped with a Forest Service-owned Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, or MAFFS, that can drop 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant along the leading edge of a forest fire in less than five seconds and cover an area a quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide. The MAFFS tanks can be refilled for another mission in 12 minutes.

All four MAFFS aircraft should be ready to make drops in Arizona by noon Wednesday operating from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport, according to Col. Charles D. Davis III, commander of the Air Expeditionary Group (Provisional) – Wildland Fire Fighting, headquartered at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.  

One C-130 left Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday and flew one mission against the 2,350 acres Dean Peak fire, located 10 miles southeast of Kingman, Ariz., the Air Force said.

Margo Whitt, a spokeswoman for the interagency Southwest Coordination Center in Albuquerque, N.M., said the C-130 would not fly any missions against the Arizona fires Wednesday.  The Yarnell Fire, which caused the deaths of the 19 firefighters, has spread across 8,400 acres since it started last Friday, June 28, and residents in the towns of Peeples Valley and Yarnell have been ordered to evacuate.

The Forest Service cannot use the Air Force aerial tankers until it has deployed all its contract air tankers. The Air Force activated C-130s to fight fires in southern Colorado on June 11 and since then has made 70 drops on Colorado and Arizona fires, using some 190,000 gallons of fire retardant.

Two of the C-130s deployed to Arizona are from Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and the other two are from California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing, based at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station.