California Proves Guard's Firefighting Prowess

Wildfires this summer are showing why the National Guard should remain the go-to force in the U.S. military when additional help is needed to stem these raging blazes.

Yet the Defense Department has made noises about removing this effort from the Air National Guard and transferring it to active-component units.

But the ongoing battles with wildfires in western states right now show why that mission belongs with the Guard and should stay there. Guard modular aerial firefighting systems, or MAFFS, flown aboard C-130s have been combating hundreds of fires from California to Colorado to Idaho.

In California, the Rim fire, which started Aug. 12, exploded in size to become one of the 10 largest wildfires in California history. Thus far, the Rim fire has burned across more than 160,000 acres, destroying structures, ravaging forest land and threatening Yosemite’s giant sequoias.

In California, MAFFS 4 flew five sorties Monday dumping 9,000 gallons on the Fish fire, while the MAFFS 6 flew five sorties and dumped 12,000 gallons on the Rim fire. Since Aug. 11, the California Guard's MAFFS 4 and 6 have flown 146 sorties and dumped 321,500 gallons of retardant supporting the National Interagency Fire Center throughout California.

Stunning videos were released this month of operations undertaken by MAFFS 4 and MAFFS 6.

Earlier this week, in response to the rapidly growing Rim Fire, the California Military Department made an emergency request through the defense secretary's office for approval to fly remotely piloted aircraft in support of the firefighting mission. This request was approved late Tuesday night.

This unique and historic use of RPAs in the Guard brings situational and real-time awareness with the aircraft's ability to remain in the air over the area for more than 22 hours providing relevant information about the fire, including how it is moving and where it is under control. The aircraft can also identify safe routes of retreat for firefighters and the outbreak of new fires created by lightning or floating embers.

Partnered already with the highly experienced MAFFS units, RPA intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities provides valued assets to the battle with wildfires, illustrating the ingenuity the Guard brings to the domestic response missions.

These heroic and high-risk missions in California clearly illustrate why firefighting and the MAFFS mission should stay in the Guard.

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