by Tech. Sgt. Stephen Wilkins
North Carolina National Guard Public Affairs
7/18/2008 – SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AFPN) — People in California noticed the job Airmen at McClellan Airfield performed in fighting California’s wildfires and could not stop telling the commander of U.S. Northern Command during his July 17 visit to Sacramento. “State leaders are stumbling over each other trying to thank you guys!” said Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., the NORTHCOM commander, referring to the Airmen’s effort to contain wildfires borne of lightning strikes throughout California at the end of June. General Renuart spoke to Air Force reservists and Air National Guard members of the 302nd Air Expeditionary Group and members of the U.S. Forest Service and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection at McClellan Airfield July 16 after meeting with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to discuss defense support to civilian authorities.
Airmen have helped fight more than 2,000 fires that ravaged the California wilderness since operations began June 26. The men and women of the 302nd AEG have conducted more than 980 airdrops, dropping in excess of 1.3 million gallons of fire retardant around the fire perimeters to help firefighters on the ground contain and control them.
The 302nd AEG is currently made up of eight Air Force Modular Airborne Firefighting System-capable C-130 Hercules aircraft, six Marine Corps helicopters and two Navy Reserve helicopters. The 302nd AEG C-130 units include three Air National Guard units — the 145th Airlift Wing from Charlotte, N.C., the 146th Airlift Wing from Channel Islands, Calif., and the 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyo., and one Air Force Reserve unit — the 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.
Currently less than 30 fires continue to burn uncontained, but incident commanders are confident that resources on the ground may be enough to contain them. The job of the 302nd AEG Airmen has moved to a wait-and-see status.
“We don’t want to release aircraft to their home states too early since the possibility fires may jump the lines we’ve established or a change in the weather might create a more serious situation requiring an air response,” said Darlene Mullins, McClellan’s current MAFFS liaison officer from the U.S. Forest Service.
Once a true determination that ground firefighting resources have been successful in containing the fires, the release of assets, including aircraft, will happen in a planned, staged drawdown, she said.
Members of the 302nd AEG provide unique capabilities and are part of a unified military support effort of U.S. Northern Command to assist the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Forestry and Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center. NORTHCOM officials continue to monitor the California wildfires closely to anticipate additional requests for Department of Defense assistance to local, federal and state civil authorities and will launch as many missions as needed by officials battling the wildfires.
Editor’s Note: CALPILOTS and its membership also would like to thank the people fighting the fires throughout the state for all their continuing hard work. It is also important to point out that without our airports these fire fighting aircraft would not be able to operate. The citizens of this state, and country, must always remember that because fire is a fact of life for us, airports are critical to our safety when these types of disasters occur.