Apr 22, 2010 10:06 PM by Matt Stafford
Crews with the 302nd Airlift Wing on Peterson Air Force Base could be you're saving grace when wildfires break out. Several crews at Peterson make up one of four units of the Modular Airborne Firefighting System, or MAFFS for short. They help contain wild land fires that get too big for the Forrest Service.
Beginning Sunday, Peterson's crew will go to South Carolina for their annual certification.
"Come July, August everyone's going to be thinking and talking about it (wildfires)," says Lt. Col. David Condit, director of the Aerial Firefighting for the Air Force Reserve. "We want to make sure that we're well certified and ready to go when those fires start."
In a fire, the U.S. Forrest Service manages the fight. Their planes mark the drop points, and Hercules C-130's from the Air Force drop fire retardant, also known as slurry. The slurry isn't designed to extinguish the fire, just prevent it from spreading.
Instead of planes outfitted for the mission, the Air Force uses the C-130's. This means the MAFFS instrument in the back that sprays the slurry has to be added and removed. Lt. Col. Condit says the first model was designed by a company that makes dishwashers. Now they have a new model that they feel will be more effective.
The unit can spray 3,000 gallons of slurry, or nearly 28,000 pounds, in only 5 seconds. While flying at an altitude of only about 150 feet, the slurry will cover a strip about 60 feet wide and nearly a quarter of a mile long.
For the firefighters on the ground, they say the help comes as a big relief.
Before next week's certification, crews held a practice run on the MAFFS sprayer. Local wildfire crews came to watch and they had a blast, literally. They saw the cannon at full force. It's a little different than the tools they use on the ground.
"We have a half inch hose, they put a quarter of a mile in about 6 seconds," says Sandi Yukman, Coordination for Colorado Springs Utilities Wild land Fire Team.
Yukman and the Utilities Wild land Fire Team do their work on the ground, but they say support from above can make the difference in stopping a fire in it's tracks
"When we see air support we know, OK, we're going to get the upper hand on this fire and we're going to do it quickly," Yukman says.
When it comes to putting out fires, quick is exactly how they want to do it. However, until a fire breaks they just have to wait.