Military Support in Wildland Fire Suppression

Since 1975, the US Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior have had an interagency agreement with the Department of Defense (DOD) which allows DOD to provide firefighting support to the wildland fire management agencies when needed.

military with firefighter gearThe US military is normally requested when national civilian resources are committed to fires and there is the need for further resources. The decision to request military support rests with the National Multi-Agency Coordinating (NMAC) Group at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). As needed, the military will send a liaison officer to NIFC who coordinates closely with the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC). NICC coordinates and tracks national firefighting requirements and plays a key role in the mobilization of military resources. The US military may provide aerial and/or ground resources.

The military also supports firefighting efforts through the Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) program. This program provides Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units flying in military C-130 aircraft equipped as airtankers to support wildland fire suppression activities. Aircrews get annual training and are certified by NIFC.

military firefighter crewsMilitary resources for ground firefighting are normally requested in battalion strength, which is equivalent to 25 20-person crews and their command and control elements. Each battalion fields about 550 personnel.

The military has provided firefighters and MAFFS support during several critical fires seasons, including 1988, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006.


On July 20, Two MAFFS units were activated through a Request For Assistance (RFA) to the Department of Defense and MAFFS 1 and MAFFS 3 were positioned at Boise, Idaho to support fire suppression efforts in the western US. On August 17, MAFFS 3 experienced a hard landing at Hill AFB. While no injuries occurred, the damage ended the service of MAFFS 3 for 2014, but MAFFS1 stayed in service until August 24. MAFFS units provided retardant delivery to the Great Basin, Northwest and Northern Rocky Geographic Areas while employed from July 20 through August 24, delivering a total of 244,406 gallons while conducting 97 sorties. This is down from 2013 when 576 sorties were flown delivering 1,387,881 gallons of retardant.


On June 11, a Request for Assistance for four military C-130 MAFFS aircraft was approved, and the first MAFFS began flying fire missions in Colorado on June 12. All available MAFFS aircraft (from California, North Carolina, Wyoming and Colorado) were activated at various times during the fire season. The MAFFS were released on July 13, but reactivated on July 20. On September 7, the remaining two MAFFS were released and returned to their home stations. In 2013 MAFFS flew 576 wildland fire sorties across the western U.S. and dropped 1,387,881 gallons of retardant. This is down 346 sorties flown and 1,061,798 gallons dropped
in 2012.


On June 23, a Request for Assistance for four military C-130 MAFFS aircraft was approved, and the first MAFFS began flying fire missions in Colorado on June 25. All available MAFFS aircraft (from California, North Carolina, Wyoming and Colorado) were activated at various times during the fire season. By September 13, MAFFS had flown 922 sorties across the western U.S., dropping 2,449,679 gallons of retardant. This is the highest number of gallons dropped by MAFFS since 1994. The last two MAFFS aircraft were released September 14 from Sacramento, CA.


Four military C-130 Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) activations occurred in 2011 in support of wildland fire suppression in Mexico, Texas, the Southwest and other parts of the West. The first mobilization to Texas occurred on April 15 to suppress fires burning in Mexico. Two MAFFS flew 37 sorties into Mexico from April 16 to April 23, and dropped 105,000 gallons of retardant.

The second activation involved MAFFS from California, North Carolina, Colorado and Wyoming. These aircraft flew 101 sorties from April 17 to May 4 in Texas, and dropped a total of 315,000 gallons of retardant.
The third MAFFS activation occurred from June 15 to July 13 and involved six MAFFS from California, North Carolina and Colorado at different times during this period. These aircraft were based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and flew a total of 287 sorties and dropped 610,173 gallons of retardant in Arizona and New Mexico.

The fourth MAFFS activation occurred on September 8 and involved six MAFFS from Colorado, Wyoming and North Carolina (two from each state). The Wyoming MAFFS were based in Boise, Idaho, and flew 13 sorties, dropping 5,439 gallons of retardant in Idaho and Oregon. The other four MAFFS were based in Austin, Texas, and flew 92 sorties, dropping 154,250 gallons of retardant in Texas. The Wyoming MAFFS were released on September 18.

The North Carolina MAFFS were released on September 22, and the Colorado MAFFS were released on September 30.


Eight National Guard Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) C-130 aircraft were deployed to California (the first on June 23) to support fire suppression operations in that state. These aircraft, three each from North Carolina and Wyoming, and two from Colorado flew 480 missions and dropped 1,325,000 gallons of fire retardant. The last MAFFS were released on August 1.


Six Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) C-130 aircraft were deployed to southern California in late October to support fire suppression operations. These aircraft, two each from North Carolina, Colorado and Wyoming National Guard units, were assigned from October 23 to November 6. The aircraft flew 98 missions and dropped 199,860 gallons of fire retardant.


Two North Carolina Air National Guard Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) were deployed on March 17 to Albuquerque, New Mexico. These aircraft were released March 27 without flying a fire mission. The two North Carolina Air National Guard MAFFS were redeployed to Mesa, Arizona from June 26 to July 7. The aircraft flew 44 sorties, delivering 109,423 gallons of retardant. Two Wyoming and Colorado Air National Guard MAFFS were deployed to Klamath Falls, Oregon from July 21 to September 13. The aircraft flew 318 sorties, delivering 699,941 gallons of retardant. Three California Air National Guard MAFFS were deployed to Boise, Idaho from August 5 to September 16 (the third MAFFS was only temporarily deployed). The aircraft flew 295 sorties, delivering 650,625 gallons of retardant.

In addition, a U.S. Army battalion ( Fort Lewis, Washington) Task Force Blaze, was deployed to the Tripod Complex in the Northwest Area from August 13 to September 3.


Four military C-130 aircraft equipped with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) were activated on May 21. Operating out of the Boise Airtanker Base, the four aircraft flew 366 sorties for 510 flight hours, and delivered 879,034 gallons of retardant on 47 fires in Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Washington and Oregon. The last missions were flown on September 5.


military firefighter crew briefingTwo Air Force Reserve MAFFS aircraft (from Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs) supported fire suppression operations from May 14 to September 9 from bases in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. These aircraft flew 327 sorties (about 347 hours of flight time) and delivered approximately 869,929 gallons of retardant to fires in the West.


Task Force Steel Dragon (US Army 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment) from Fort Hood, TX were deployed to the Northern Rockies Area assisting fire suppression efforts in western Montana from August 24th through September 13.


Military battalion from Fort Riley, Kansas assisted with fires in Oregon from July 23 through August 16. They were first assigned to the Monument Fire near Unity, OR and then moved to the Tiller Complex near Tiller.

MAFFS were deployed to Colorado Springs, CO; San Bernardino, CA; Hill Air Force Base, UT; Boise, ID; and Spokane, WA.


Two military battalions from Fort Lewis were assigned from August 24 to September 3 to the Virginia Lake Complex in Washington.

MAFFS were deployed to Washington and Oregon.


Five military battalions were deployed in 2000. Task Force Thunder from Fort Hood supported efforts on the Burgdorf Junction Fire near McCall, ID. Task Force Wildfire from Camp Pendleton assisted on the Clear Creek Fire near Salmon, ID. Task Force Lumberjack from Fort Hood worked on the Upper Nine Mile Complex near Huson, MT. Task Force Four from Fort Campbell fought fires on the Bitterroot National Forest. The fifth Task Force from Fort Bragg was assigned to the Troy South Fire on the Kootenai National Forest.


MAFFsAn Army battalion from Fort Carson and a Marine battalion from Camp Pendleton assisted with firefighting efforts.

MAFFS were deployed to northern California.


Seven military battalions were activated during 1994, including two Marine battalions from Camp Pendleton and five Army battalions (two from Fort Hood, two from Fort Lewis, and one from Fort Riley).
MAFFS were deployed to Idaho, Washington, and Montana.


Four Army battalions (two from Fort Lewis and two from Fort Carson) assisted firefighting efforts in Oregon and California.

MAFFS were deployed to southern California.


Four Army battalions (two from Fort Lewis, one from Fort Carson, and one from Fort Riley) assisted on fires in Idaho and Oregon.
MAFFS and 19 helicopters from Fort Campbell were also deployed to Idaho and Oregon.


Six Army and two Marine battalions provided firefighting assistance during the Yellowstone Fires.
MAFFS and 57 helicopters were also deployed to Yellowstone.

In the Spotlight
photo of wildland fire and operations