• Local Air National Guard unit to head to Colorado to fight massive wildfire

    By: Sarah Rosario

    Updated:

    COLORADO - The U.S. Forest Service says local airman are needed to help put out wildfires on the west coast.

    The Charlotte-based 145th Airlift Wing is on standby waiting for its orders.

    With just one phone call, its two C-130 air planes in Charlotte could be flown to the middle of the West Fork wildfire in Colorado.

    "There's 117 fires out here. It's really dry. So we'll just have to wait and see how they can use us," said Col. Charles D. Davis III, director of operations.

    The fire has already ravaged more than 108 miles.

    The 145 Airlift Wing was put on standby this weekend after the U.S. Fire Service said its assistance could be needed.

    The Charlotte unit is one of only four nationwide that can help put out these types of fires using C-130 planes, also known as Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System-equipped (MAFFS).

    Two of the four units, one from Colorado and another from California, are there now. Each group will work in rotation for eight days.

    "We train for this type of thing and we do it as safely as anybody can do it. We have a really good track record," said Davis.

    The call comes almost exactly a year since four North Carolina airmen died fighting a wildfire in South Dakota on July 1; two survived. According to the Air National Guard, last year's crash was the first major incident in the 40-year history of the mission.

    The C-130 aircraft can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds.

    The job is quick but the time it takes to get back to the base and fill up the plane with more retardant and back out to the wildfire could be more than a half hour, all while the crew is battling black smoke from the flames.

    Even though the unit is on standby, a tentative deployment is set for the first week of July.

    The director of operations says it could be sooner.

    "The 145th Air National Guard should be out there, oh, I'd say in about a week," said Davis.

    The MAFFS operations were temporarily suspended after last years crash, but with other wildfires raging, the 145th Airlift Wing deployed a second time last summer to help with the efforts.

    This is first time they've been called out to help put out a wildfire this year.

    So far, no buildings have been lost in the West Fork Wildfire and no injuries have been reported.

    Next Monday a memorial service will be held at the site where the four North Carolina airmen were killed.


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