The National Interagency Fire Center ordered four military Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System aircraft to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport this week to assist with wildfire efforts across Arizona and the Southwest.
The four C-130s are capable of dropping 3,000 gallons of retardant or water in less than 5 seconds to cover an area a quarter mile long by 100 feet wide, according to the U.S. Air Force website.
At least one of the planes already made a drop on the lightning-sparked Dean Peak Fire, which was at had grown to 5,200 acres by Friday. The fire is 10 miles southeast of Kingman in the Hualapai Mountains.
The Boise-based National Interagency Fire Center makes on the call on where the MAFFS are deployed, said Emily Garber, fire information officer for the Phoenix Interagency Dispatch Center.
“They look around at what the fire activity is, what the fire dangers are, what the air resources we have and they determine whether or not we can use a little more help. If they see the contracted resources we have are a little thin in certain areas, they will call out the MAFFS,” Garber said.
Already, there are two DC-10s and a BAE-146, a heavy air tanker flying out of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
Two of the MAFFS C-130s helped earlier this summer with efforts in Colorado. Placing them at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport makes it possible for the aircraft to assist around the Southwest. The four aircraft came with 20 crew members and 72 support personnel to help with refueling and reloading of retardant and water, Garber said.
“It’s another tool in the arsenal,” Garber said. “It’s usually when we have quite a bit of activity, it affords us another tool.”
Crews across Arizona are fighting several large fires, including the deadly Yarnell Hill Fire outside of Prescott which claimed the lives of 19 firefighters Sunday. As of Friday, it was 80 percent contained.
Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is an “important hub” for firefighting, Garber said.
“Generally, where the aircraft will reload we try to do as close to the fire as possible, but it depends on the equipment. It’s (Mesa) a good central location for that effort,” she said.
The airport has been used the last few years during summer wildfires, including the Wallow Fire in 2011.
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