U. S. military sends two air tankers to fight fires in Mexico

Saturday morning two C-130 aircraft with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) left Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs, Colorado for Mexico to assist with two large fires that are burning about 60 miles south of the Texas border. They arrived later in the day at Laughlin Air Force Base, which they will use as a reload base, and are already dropping water mixed with foam concentrate on the fires. That’s right, not long-term fire retardant, but foam.

The MAFFS units, which hold about 3,000 gallons, are owned by the U.S. Forest Service and slip into the C-130’s cargo bay fairly quickly to convert the transport planes into air tankers. Normally they drop retardant but apparently they were not able to work out the logistics of acquiring it for this mission.

The MAFFS aircraft have been authorized to drop four loads per day per aircraft, for up to seven days.

Evergreen’s 747 Supertanker has been working on the fires in Mexico since April 12. Steven Daniels, of Evergreen Aviation, told Wildfire Today that the massive air tanker has dropped 12 loads of retardant, 20,000 gallons each, for a total of 240,000 gallons.

Supertanker1 - 30 June 2010
File photo of the 747 Supertanker dropping on June 30, 2010

The Bomberos, or Mexican firefighters, are not totally familiar with the use of retardant and wonder why the 747 is not dropping directly on the fire or flames, but instead is dropping just ahead of the fire. They are learning that dropping ahead of the fire is the best way to slow it down, and that an air tanker can’t put out a fire completely, it takes support from ground personnel to follow-up after the drop.

Two Air-Cranes operated by Helicopter Transport Services have also been working on the fires in Mexico.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

20 thoughts on “U. S. military sends two air tankers to fight fires in Mexico”

  1. Good practice but I don’t think they are doing alot of good protecting life and property.

  2. With few exceptions there is little out there that merit using the 747s and MAFFS. Dog and Ponu……….

  3. AZfirefighter,

    Look at a detailed map of the fire. You’ll see that the majority of efforts are being focused on protecting cities, towns, and other valuable sites. Those are the “values at risk”, and those are real people.


    Mexico REQUESTED U.S. federal government assistance weeks ago, whereas Texas HAS NOT sought a Presidential Disaster Declaration (or official “help” from federal sources) and has ONLY been requesting Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAGs)so far…

    Federal assistance to Texas has been through the “normal” ordering processes from TICC to SACC.

  4. It’s a waste of money. We shouldn’t be doing it, it costs too much money that our country doesn’t have to GIVE AWAY to the Mexicans.

  5. I am surprised that so many people have such strong ideas about the best strategy for fighting the fire in Mexico, from their vantage points sitting in front of a computer. The Mexican authorities decided they needed air tankers and asked for help from the U.S.

    There was less anger in December when the U.S. sent to Israel, halfway around the world, six MAFFS C-130s, plus Custer’s National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) Team, 45 metric tons of Fire-Trol fire retardant and 12,000 liters of WD881 Class A foam, all delivered on additional C-130s. And the fire in Mexico is 60 miles from Texas. The air tankers are basing and reloading in Texas at Laughlin Air Force Base near the border, less than one hour from the fires.

  6. Mr. McMillin:

    MAFFS air tankers are only activated for fires within the United States when all privately contracted air tankers are committed or otherwise unavailable. This is to ensure that the federal government does not compete with private enterprise. Are there unfilled orders for air tankers in Texas? Has the Texas Forest Service or the TICC placed orders for air tankers that have not been filled because none are available? If so, and if the federal government authorizes the use of MAFFS, then there are six others available, besides the two dropping on the fires 60 miles south of Texas. The tax dollars being spent on those two aircraft are a small fraction of those spent on the adventure in Israel.

    Maybe Texas would not accept federal government-operated air tankers anyway. Texas Governor Rick Perry has entertained the idea of his state seceding from the United States. Oh, wait. On Sunday Gov. Perry released a statement saying, “As wildfires continue to rage across our state, Texas is reaching its capacity to respond to these emergencies and is in need of federal assistance.”

    Speaking of federal assistance, one of the US Forest Service-owned infrared aircraft, N144Z, the Cessna Citation jet, arrived in Texas on Saturday to map some of the fires. Sunday night it was working in the Midland and Abilene areas.

  7. Bill, what’s your point? Maybe last December Texas wasn’t burning. Our resources were needed in Israel. Now they are needed in Texas and my tax dollars are fighting Mexican fires.

  8. It’s all a waste of money. That’s prob why Texas hasn’t called for them. They’d rather do it cost effectively themselves and keep the Federal Gov’t / Cluster out of it.

  9. Scott,

    Texas hasn’t been “doing it cost effectively themselves” as you state. The VFDs and in some part, the TFS, are just trying to do their best and do business as normal.

    Things AREN’T normal. TFS and the Governor’s Office have issued repeated state proclamations over the last 4 months.

    The majority of large fires in TX have had federal Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAGs) assigned to them that reimburse the state 75 cents on the dollar (at NATIONWIDE taxpayer expense).

    Texas sized egos aside, the federal govt (USFS, NPS, BLM, etc) have expertise and resources available that ARE just now being tapped.

    This “event” reminds me of Hurricane Katrina… the blame went to the federal govt on the lack of response, while the “locals” never prepared for the risk… The LA Governor didn’t REQUEST federal assistance until it was too late to be effective.. and days after it was needed.

  10. AF Reserve C-130’s were diverted from their assigned mission in Mexico after Governor Perry requested federal assistance.

    The MAFFS were used on a 75-100 acre fire (Pinnacle Fire) outside the state capital, Austin.

    Had the MAFFS not been in place at Laughlin AFB and supporting Mexico… they wouldn’t have been available for use/diversion to the Pinnacle Fire (Oak Hill Fire).

  11. The map is freely available to folks with authorization to use AFF, Flight Aware, etc… and the ability to overlay the data with “values at risk” in Mexico.

    Those of us who have access… don’t think about wildfire in terms of boundaries… or in terms such as “the Mexicans”.

  12. Ken,

    The information you have is based on data layers from what source? How reliable is that source? I am pretty familiar with that area of Mexico. Unless you can produce something that says different I still think the efforts there are misguided to suppress fires at a huge economic and ecological cost. Dropping 250,000 gal of retardant and “just doing something” because we can is not the appropriate response. I don’t see what is going on down there as haveing anything to do with your “Mexicans” comment.

    Please make your information availabe to the masses so we can see things from your perspective.

  13. Bill,

    From your reports on WFT and what was being sent over here via other news media the fires in Israel impacted lots of communities. The info we got seemed to go along way to support sending US resources. The fires in Mexico are in super rural areas. I don’t see a need to invest loads of money and expose people to risk and damage natural resources. From my perspective the Mexican Govt takes more of the old 10am policy approach to fire management. I have seen it unfold in other parts of Northern Mexico over the past 15 years.

  14. Wasn’t it Texas Gov Rick Perry that was talking a few months back that Texas might want to secede from the rest of the US? Funny how good those Federal taxpayer $$ look when you are on the receiving end, and “Big Hat” talk is quickly forgotten.

  15. It seems to me all states (especially Texas) shouldn’t be so dependent on the Fed to bail them out from their own ‘WILDFIRE DISASTERS’.
    Maybe they should try and regulate, (Texans love that)people building in fire prone areas with planning ordinances and requirement for fuel clearance and sprinkler systems. This is what Jerry Brown is doing to the counties in Calif, so the state doesn’t have to suck up the bill.
    These agencies, especially CDF (Can’t Do Fire, 3 lowest grades)talk about safety,(as long as it’s their’s and they don’t have to get dirty)and fuel reduction (as long as they don’t have to do it). The last thing they want is for wildfires to go away and stop burning homes. They would lose their budget.
    This is analogous to sending airtankers all around the world at taxpayer’s expense. Budget by Crisis (usually created by the govts for bigger revenue enhancemt. It’s all based on the American Military budget – Budget by Crisis (Commies, Terrorists, etc). Just pay the heros for saving you, post incident).

  16. Scott – I’m not sure that I can completely understand all of your post, but there is one statement that I understand and fully support: “…talk about safety (as long as it’s their’s ….)”. YES – as an OPS Chief and a Safety Officer, I believe and am committed to the fact that there is nothing more important than the lives of my firefighters (and me too!). If citizens dies and homes burn to the ground, it’s a tragedy but no reason for wildland firefighters to die doing acts that violate our training and 10/18/LCES. I didn’t hire on to become a “fallen hero” and don’t know any other clear-thinking wildland firefighter who did. From 1990 – 2009 we lost 359 folks involved in wildland fire: the grass, brush, timber and homes that were burned have come back – none of those 359 women and men will ever return. Nothing we protect in the wildland is worth dying for!

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