Guard Aircraft, Crews Battle California Wildfires

By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2008 - Army and Air National Guard members from California and North Carolina are supporting firefighting efforts in Northern California today following a state active-duty call-up by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a request for airborne firefighting assets by the Interagency Fire Center.

The governor's office reported yesterday that a "swarm of dry lighting cells over the last 16 hours sparked nearly 400 new fires across the state, spanning from Monterey and Fresno counties to the Oregon-California border."

Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency June 22 for Monterey and Trinity counties. The governor made similar declarations for Butte and Santa Cruz counties June 11 and 12. At least 30 Guard members were operating in Redding, Napa and Stockton.

The Interagency Fire Center reported more than 33,000 wild land fires in the United States this year. More than 1,000 new fires have been reported in California since June 21.

Two specially equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft, aircrews and support assets from the North Carolina Air Guard's 145th Airlift Wing arrived in Chico, Calif., yesterday, adding to 10 other Army and Air National Guard aircraft and aircrews performing firefighting missions in the state.

Four Air Guard C-130s carry special mobile airborne firefighting systems that can drop 3,000 gallons of an orange-colored water and fire-retardant mixture. In addition, four Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and one CH-47 Chinook helicopter equipped with helibuckets also are suppressing wildfires from a staging area at the Stockton Flight Facility.

Two Army Guard OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopters from Los Alamitos are performing fire-spotting missions out of Mather Air Field, and one RC-26 Metroliner is performing aerial reconnaissance missions. Officials reported additional requests for at least eight Army Guard aircraft from Nevada, Washington and Oregon.

(Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith serves with the National Guard Bureau.)

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