CHEYENNE -- Wyoming Air National Guard airmen will deploy today for a federal mission to fight wildfires in Idaho and surrounding states.
Thirty airmen from the 187th Airlift Squadron will be stationed in Boise, Idaho, for an undetermined amount of time to fly C-130s to help the U.S. Forest Service with regional aerial firefighting efforts.
Maj. Jeremy Schaad, a pilot who will take part in the deployment, said the Air Guard's help was requested because many of the commercial aircraft and crews that typically help fight the fires have been diverted to Texas to battle the massive blazes there.
The Wyoming Air National Guard will send three C-130s as part of the deployment.
Two of the C-130s are outfitted with a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS), and the third aircraft will carry the support personnel.
MAFFS is a large attachment that fits inside the aircraft. It is a pressurized tank capable of holding up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. The equipment is owned by the U.S. Forest Service but operated by the military.
Schaad said the planes can drop the 3,000 gallons of retardant in a matter of seconds. He said the drops are made in advance of the path of a fire to create a "fence" that will stop or at least slow the progress of the blaze.
"It can be very effective, as long as Mother Nature cooperates," Schaad said. "But it all depends on the wind and the amount of dead fuel there is for the fire."
Maj. Brian Diehl, another pilot who will be deployed for the mission, said aerial firefighting is one of the squadron's most dangerous tasks.
He said the bulky C-130s fly just 150 feet off the ground when making the drops. The planes also must navigate heavy smoke and rough and mountainous terrains.
"That is why we choose only our most seasoned aviators for the job," Diehl said.
The Wyoming Air National Guard is regularly asked to help with firefighting missions across the county in coordination with the U.S. Forest Service. The National Interagency Coordination Center designates which areas of the country are in need of the extra help.
This will be the second deployment involving Wyoming Air National Guard aircraft to fight fires this year. Schaad said personnel were deployed to Texas for about a week in April.
Senior Master Sgt. Doug Peterson said the crews need to be able to act on short notice for the assignments. For example, the official order for this deployment was not given until late Wednesday.
In addition, Peterson said the crews need to be flexible because they do not know how long they will be deployed or specifically what fires they will be fighting.
"We just go with the flow of whatever we are told," Peterson said. "It's part of the job."