U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) released the following statement today after the U.S. Forest Service activated four Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) units.
"Until Monday, the Forest Service repeatedly said it had enough air power to fight the fires in Colorado and elsewhere while the state's most destructive fire in history, the High Park Fire, consumed 83,205 acres, destroyed 248 homes and killed a 62-year-old grandmother," Gallegly said. "On Monday, realizing that the air power was insufficient to fight the High Park Fire and other large wildfires burning across Colorado and other western states, the Forest Service finally activated four of the eight MAFFS units currently in service.
"Every tool available should be on the front lines fighting these fires. It is time for the Forest Service to activate the four remaining MAFFS in service, and press into service the other nine available MAFFS units sitting in storage."
On June 19, Gallegly introduced a bill that would require the U.S. Forest Service to activate unused MAFFS units to help alleviate the shortage of air tankers to fight wildfires.
MAFFS are portable tanks carried in the back of C-130s that are used to drop retardant on fires. One second-generation unused MAFFS unit and eight first-generation unused MAFFS units could be pressed into service. C-130 crews from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve have been trained to use the MAFFS.
In 2003, the Forest Service had 44 fixed-winged commercial firefighting planes at its disposal. Some of the planes crashed during service since then and much of the fleet has been grounded. As of June 3, only eight commercial aircraft were available to fight wildfires.
Specifically, Gallegly's bill would:
Require the Forest Service to re-activate the eight MAFFS 1 units sitting in storage around the country.
Require the Forest Service to make available the ninth MAFFS II system that is sitting at Channel Islands, ready for use.
Prohibit the Forest Service from acquiring air tankers from a foreign government unless the chief of the Forest Service certifies to Congress that MAFFS units are being fully utilized or are not sufficient to address current wildfires.
Require the Forest Service to report to Congress within 30 days of enactment on how they intend to make the ninth MAFFS II unit available along with a timeline for making the MAFFS I units available.
Gallegly spearheaded the drive in Congress through legislation and appropriations to replace the first-generation MAFFS with the newer model and to replace the aging C-130s with state-of-the-art C-130Js. Two of the second-generation MAFFS units are stationed at Channel Islands Air National Guard in Point Mugu. The others are stationed in Colorado, Wyoming and North Carolina. By law, the MAFFS, which are owned by the Forest Service, cannot be used until all available U.S. commercial aircraft have been pressed into service.
In 2011, more than 74,000 wildfires burned more than 8.7 million acres in the United States. During the past 10 years, an average of 83,894 wildfires have burned an average of 7.4 million acres annually.