COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A U.S. Forest Service aircraft breaks away as a Modular Airborne Firefighting System-equipped C-130 begins dropping retardant on a section of the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, Colo., June 26. Four MAFFS units from the 302nd and 153rd Airlift Wings are flying in support of the U.S. Forest Service as they fight wildland fires in Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher)
Colorado's wildfire has exploded into an "epic firestorm," in the words of Colorado Springs fire chief Richard Brown. Over 30,000 people have evacuated, and already hundreds of homes have been consumed. Ironically, the U.S. Air Force Academy has also been evacuated, at the very time that Colorado desperately needs more Air Force C-130s to fight the massive fire.
A C-130 fitted with the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) can drop 3,000 gallons of fire-retardant material in 5 seconds, and reload in just 15 minutes. This tempo is crucial to containing wildfires like the one devastating Colorado Springs. However, of a current fleet of nearly 380 C-130s, only eight can be fitted with the MAFFS—and four of them are already in the skies over Colorado. With another fire looming in the north of the state, there is no excess capacity to help protect civilian areas. That means thousands of exhausted firefighters on the ground are without enough of the crucial support they need to control the fires.
All this raises concerns about President Obama’s defense budget, which cuts 65 C-130s from the fleet over the next four years. While that will leave 318 C-130s, the demands on the fleet are not shrinking in Afghanistan or other places. Nor did the Air Force have much choice in the matter....