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Charlotte-based airmen return from firefighting duty

By Elisabeth Arriero
earriero@charlotteobserver.com

Airmen of the N.C. Air National Guard unit based at Charlotte Douglas International Airport returned Saturday after a week of firefighting missions in Arizona.

On Friday, the U.S. Forest Service decided to end military C-130 Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System operations, said Lt. Col. Robert Carver, spokesman for Air Expeditionary Group. MAFFS units are van-sized tanks that are loaded onto C-130 cargo planes to spread fire retardant from low altitudes.

On June 7, the N.C. Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing, based in Charlotte, sent more than 30 members to fight wildfires in response to a U.S. Forest Service request. They had been expected to be deployed at least until the first week of August.

But favorable weather conditions and available firefighting resources made it possible to end the MAFFS mission early.

Charlotte’s unit is one of four nationally, and the only one in the East, equipped for airborne firefighting missions. Officials had already reduced the activated MAFFS fleet from four aircraft to two last week. As a result, airmen in the 153rd Airlift Wing were able to return to their base in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Since the year’s initial activation on June 11, MAFFS crews have flown 134 missions and made 90 drops totaling 245,631 gallons of fire retardant.

MARK WASHBURN CONTRIBUTED

Arriero: 704-358-5945; On Twitter: @earriero
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