Federal agencies continue aid local partners fight fires

Photo by Gavin Mills.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Federal partners are continuing to work closely with first responders and firefighters from local, state, and tribal agencies to combat and monitor large wildfires throughout the West including those in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

“As we continue this fight, we’ve been able to fill every single order for more firefighters and aircraft to ensure we have everything we need to contain this fire,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Our hundreds of brave men and women on the front line are battling dry conditions, a lack of snowpack, excessive dead trees, hot weather and complex terrain to try to get this fire and others throughout the west under control.”

Approximately 1,400 Forest Service personnel and 29 engines are currently assigned to the Rocky Mountain region, with the majority of those resources staged in Colorado. An additional 500 firefighters are assigned to Colorado from the Department of the Interior.

Through the National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates resources from the US Forest Service, the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies, firefighters, incident management teams, airtankers, helicopters, fire engines and other resources are being provided to supplement state and local resources as teams continue to respond to fires across the West.

FEMA approved Fire Management Assistance Grants that authorize the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the Waldo Canyon Fire in El Paso County, Colorado; the Weber Fire in Montezuma County, Colorado; and the Hollow Fire in Sanpete County, Utah. An FMAG makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting costs for managing, mitigating and controlling the fire. These grants do not provide assistance to individual home or business owners and do not cover other infrastructure damage caused by the fire.

On June 6, FEMA approved a FMAG for the High Park Fire in Larimer County, Colorado, and on June 22 approved a FMAG for the Eagle Mountain/Dump Fire in Utah County, Utah.

FMAGs are provided through the President’s Disaster Relief Fund and made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster. Eligible items can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; mobilization and demobilization activities; and tools, materials and supplies.

The Western fire season is now, on average, 78 days longer than in the mid-1980s. Cumulative drought, a changing climate, extensive insect kill in western forests, and regional shifts of population into the wildland urban interface have resulted in an increased level of wildfire activity that is expected to continue into the future.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, in partnerships with states and local partners, have developed a cohesive strategy to respond to these trends by focusing on:

· Restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes. Through forest restoration activities such as mechanical thinning and controlled burns, officials can make forests healthier and less susceptible to catastrophic fire.

· Creating fire-adapted communities. The Forest Service and its partners are working with communities to reduce fire hazards around houses to make them more resistant to wildfire threats.

· Responding to Wildfires. This element considers the full spectrum of fire management activities and recognizes the differences in missions among local, state, tribal and Federal agencies.

On average the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior bureaus respond to more than 20,000 wildfires per year. Federal firefighters, aircraft, and ground equipment are strategically assigned to parts of the country as the fire season shifts across the nation. Firefighting experts will continuously monitor conditions and move these assets as necessary to be best positioned and increase initial attack capabilities. In addition, federal agencies are conducting accelerated restoration activities nationwide aimed at healthier forests and reduced fire risks in the years to come.

Federal land managers are also helping communities prepare for wildfire. Federal partnerships with tribal, state, and local agencies strengthen preparedness programs, such as Firewise and Ready Set Go! that help families and communities prepare for and survive wildfire. You can also visit FEMA’s Ready.gov, to learn more about steps you and your family can take now to be prepared for an emergency.

US Forest Service mobilizes more air tankers, MAFFS, to assist with wildfire suppression

The U.S. Forest Service is taking actions to continue to maintain adequate air tanker capability by mobilizing four Department of Defense C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Colorado and elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest.

MAFFS are portable fire retardant delivery systems that can be inserted into military C-130 aircraft to convert them into large airtankers when needed. Military C-130s equipped with MAFFS can drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant on wildfires. They can discharge their entire load in under five seconds or make variable drops.

Two of the MAFFS will be provided by the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and two of the MAFFS will be provided by the 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard, Cheyenne. They will be based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., and are expected to be available to fly wildfire suppression missions by no later than Tuesday, June 26.

“We are mobilizing MAFFS to ensure that we continue to have adequate air tanker capability as we experience very challenging wildfire conditions in Colorado and elsewhere in the Rocky Mountain and Southwest regions,” Tidwell said. “Maintaining adequate aerial firefighting capability, with now 21 large air tankers and over 300 helicopters, is critical to provide support to, and enhance the safety of, the firefighters on the ground who are working so hard to suppress these wildfires.”

Airtankers are used in wildfire suppression to deliver fire retardant to reduce the intensity and slow the growth of wildfires so that firefighters on the ground can construct containment lines safely, which is how wildfires are suppressed. Fire retardant is not typically used to suppress wildfires directly. Professional fire managers decide whether to use airtankers to deliver fire retardant, and where to use them, based on the objectives they have established to manage wildfires and the strategies they are using to achieve them. Airtankers are not requested for all wildfires.

The MAFFS program is a 40-year long joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Defense. The U.S. Forest Service owns the MAFFS equipment and supplies the retardant, while the Department of Defense provides the C-130 aircraft, pilots, and maintenance and support personnel to fly the missions.

The role of MAFFS, as outlined in an agreement between the Department of Defense  and the U.S. Forest Service, is to provide a surge capability that can be used to boost wildfire suppression efforts when commercial airtankers are fully committed or not readily available. With the MAFFS mobilizations, the U.S. Forest Service will have 16 large airtankers and one very large airtanker available for wildfire suppression and will have the capability to mobilize an additional nine large airtankers.

The U.S. Forest Service has a total of eight MAFFS systems ready for operational use, plus one spare. Military installations in Wyoming, North Carolina, California, and Colorado provide C-130s to fly MAFFS missions. Specifically, the 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard, Cheyenne; the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard, Charlotte; the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, Port Hueneme; and the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

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