Defense Update: The Colorado Fires (Continued and Updated)
Fires continued to burn in the Mount Saint Francis area of Colorado Springs, Colo., while firefighters battle several fires in Waldo Canyon, June 28, 2012.
All eight Department of Defense C-130 aircraft equipped with U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems are now assisting in multi-agency efforts to control wildfires in Colorado and other western states.
The eight aircraft are under Northcom command and control and all, at present, are being based at Peterson, which is in Colorado Springs.
Military units now supporting C-130 aircraft wildfire suppression missions flown from Peterson are: the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing, based at Peterson; the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing, from Cheyenne; the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing, from Charlotte; and the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing, from Channel Islands.
As of early today, DOD aircraft have conducted 73 air drops and discharged more than 190,000 gallons of flame retardant during wildfire suppression missions in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota, the Northcom release said.
A Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System-equipped C-130 aircraft from the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing based at Channel Islands, arrives at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colo., June 30, 2012. The eight aircraft now at Peterson Field constitute the entire U.S. military MAFFS-equipped fleet. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher
Preliminary estimates put the devastation at nearly 350 homes destroyed and more than two dozen damaged.
Two people were killed and two were wounded in the fire, authorities said.
By early Sunday morning, firefighters contained 45% of the Waldo Canyon fire, which has scorched more than 17,600 acres — close to 27 square miles — since it began June 23.
The area was under a Red Flag Warning on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service, which means critical fire conditions. Winds were expected to increase, but firefighters were in position to work to stop it from spreading, officials said.
Authorities put the cost of fighting the fire at $8.8 million by Saturday night. The U.S. Forest Service has warned it could be mid-July before the Waldo Canyon Fire is fully under control.
The wildfire is one of 11 active fires in Colorado. Other Western states — including Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah — also are battling wildfires, which is straining firefighting resources.
President Barack Obama declared Colorado a disaster area to allow federal dollars to help fight the Waldo Canyon Fire as well the High Park Fire, which burned 87,284 acres and destroyed nearly 260 homes in northern Colorado since it began on June 9.
President Barack Obama toured neighborhoods affected by the fires, met with impacted families, thanked firefighters and volunteers in and around Colorado Springs, Colo., yesterday, and vowed to marshal all federal resources — including military — to combat the fires.
Today, in his weekly address to the nation — recorded in Colorado during his visit — he said:
We’re going to continue to make sure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Forest Service, our military and National Guard and all the resources that we have available at the federal level are brought to bear in fighting this fire.
The federal government has already marshaled thousands of firefighters, hundreds of fire engines, and more than 100 aircraft, including 19 air tankers, to support firefighting efforts in a number of Western states including Colorado.
Eight military C-130 aircraft, each equipped with the U.S. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS), are operating out of Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., to assist with firefighting efforts in the Rocky Mountain region.
This is the first time since 2008 that all eight military aircraft have been activated at one time, said Air Force Col. Jerry Champlin, 153rd Air Expeditionary Group commander. In that year, the aircraft were stationed at McClellan Airpark in Sacramento, Calif., to fight fires in that state.
During the first five days of the military’s activation, the four MAFFS-equipped C-130s have dropped 138,398 gallons of fire retardant on two fires in Colorado: the Waldo Canyon Fire, near Colorado Springs, and the Flagstaff Fire, near Boulder.
A C-130 from the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing uses the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System to drop flame retardant on the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 27, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stephany D. Richards.
The C-130s are aiding the effort through a joint Defense Department and U.S. Forest Service program designed to provide additional aerial firefighting resources when commercial and private air tankers are no longer able to meet the Forest Service’s needs.
MAFFS is a self-contained aerial firefighting system owned by the Forest Service that can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds, covering an area one-quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide. Once the load is discharged, it can be refilled in less than 12 minutes.
A National Guard dual-status commander has been recently appointed to support wildfire response and relief efforts in Colorado, according to Defense Department and National Guard officials.
Air Force Col. Peter J. Byrne — director of the joint staff, Joint Force Headquarters-Colorado — was selected by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in agreement with Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, the Colorado National Guard reported.
“The dual-status commander will coordinate military firefighting efforts in the state,” Hickenlooper said. “This commander operates as the liaison to make sure that we can take federal assets and airmen, soldiers, bulldozers, helicopters, Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems aircraft and get whatever tool we need.”
When agreed upon by the secretary of defense and the governor of an affected state, dual-status commanders can direct both federal active duty forces and state National Guard forces in response to domestic incidents, Defense Department officials said.
According to Defense Department officials:
The nation’s governors led the creation of this new opportunity for collaboration. Dual-status commanders ensure that state and federal military forces work together effectively together when states request federal forces. Through this improved partnership, military forces responding to the wildfires will be better able to avoid duplication of effort and support the needs of the incident and the American people.
Marissa Halbeisen, a firefighter from the Hot Shots, a specialized team of firefighters from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., helps cut and clear a fire line in the Mount Saint Francis area of Colorado Springs, Colo., June 28, 2012. Her team also is helping battle several fires in Waldo Canyon.