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As wildfire season approaches, Air teams practice with MAFFS units

Assistant Air Base Fueler from the Santa Maria Air Tanker Base Elena Rios with U.S. Forest Service monitors water being pumped into a MAFFS unit on a C-130 air tanker during training at the 146th Airlift Wing in Port Hueneme, California on May 4, 2016. Air National Guard and Reserve units from across the U.S. convened for MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems)annual certification and training this week to prepare for the upcoming fire season in support of U.S. Forest Service.

Assistant Air Base Fueler from the Santa Maria Air Tanker Base Elena Rios with U.S. Forest Service monitors water being pumped into a MAFFS unit on a C-130 air tanker during training at the 146th Airlift Wing in Port Hueneme, California on May 4, 2016. Air National Guard and Reserve units from across the U.S. convened for MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems)annual certification and training this week to prepare for the upcoming fire season in support of U.S. Forest Service.

CHANNEL ISLANDS AIR NATIONAL GUARD STATION, Calif. – More than 400 Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Airmen from across the country gathered this week to be certified on the military's Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, known as MAFFS, in preparation for the 2016 wildland fire season.

Airmen from four ANG wings, together with the Air Force Reserve's 302nd Airlift Wing, took part in classroom-based briefings and training as well as C-130 flying operations. Military flight instructors trained alongside U.S. Forest Service aircrew flying in mountainous terrain over simulated fire lines, while ground crew members honed their skills servicing the aircraft and reloading the MAFFS units at the tanker base located at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in Port Hueneme, California. Military and civilian agencies synchronize and coordinate during this training in order to ensure fluid processes during firefighting operations.

Col. Scott Sanders, MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group commander, said the training had gone well for aircrews this year.

"MAFFS is an inter-agency partnership. We train as we fight - together. It is far and away one of our most satisfying missions," said Sanders, who is assigned to the 153rd AW, Wyoming Air National Guard. "One of the reasons we enjoy flying it is to see the immediate results of our efforts."

Throughout certification week, 80 C-130 aircrews will have flown approximately 200 training sorties, performing targeted water drops in the mountains of Southern California's Angeles National Forest. Once flying operations end, it's estimated that 1.5 million gallons of water will have been dropped.

Kim Christensen, National Interagency Fire Center deputy assistant director of operations for fire and aviation management, said the wildland fire potential for 2016 was "normal, significant."

"The 2016 fire season prediction for the country has been pegged at a normal, significant fire potential," Christensen said. "There are two areas that are pointing to above average fire potential out West, including the Great Basin in Nevada and areas throughout Southern California."

In previous years, requests for MAFFS support has increased. The average fire season, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, has increased by 64 to 72 days.

During an activation to support wildland fire suppression, MAFFS units can drop up to 3,000 gallons of retardant per run on wildfires. Retardant is dropped ahead of a fire in an effort to slow its spread, giving ground crews a critical edge in gaining the upper hand on the blaze. The retardant's bright red color also helps aircrews determine the accuracy of their drops.

MAFFS is a partnership between federal land management agencies and the Air Force to provide supplemental air tankers to assist in fire suppression efforts nationwide during times of high fire activity. The system itself is a portable fire retardant delivery system that can be easily inserted into the C-130 Hercules, converting the vessel into an air tanker when civilian fleets have been fully committed.

The Air Force's MAFFS aerial firefighting fleet is supported by the Air Force Reserve's 302nd Air Wing, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado., and the Air National Guard's 153rd Air Wing, located in Cheyenne, Wyoming; the 146th Air Wing, based at Channel Islands, California.; and the 145th Air Wing in Charlotte, North Carolina. Recently, the National Guard Bureau selected the 152nd Airlift Wing with the Nevada Air National Guard in Reno to replace the 145th Air Wing as the North Carolina-based unit begins its transition to the C-17 Globemaster III.