CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The demise of the only company that manufactured a device specially designed to spray fire retardant from the back of U.S. military C-130 cargo planes has some experts worried about the future viability of a program that has helped fight wildfires for 40 years.
The Modular Airborne Firefighting System is a bus-sized device that can be shoved into the belly of a cargo plane and then used to spray retardant, or slurry, at 3,000 gallons in less than 5 seconds. The $4.9 million device’s only manufacturer, Sacramento, Calif.-based Aero Union, went out of business in August, and no other company has replaced it. Critical spare parts also are no longer being made.
The MAFFS C130s are operated by three National Guard and one reserve unit in Wyoming, Colorado, North Carolina and California. Wyoming’s MAFFS have been deployed as far away as Indonesia. Last year, MAFFS C-130s flew to wildfires in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oregon and Mexico. They’ve been critical again this year against wildfires in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota.
“Thank God we have them. Can you imagine if we didn’t have them?” said Tony Morris with the Wildfire Research Network, a Pacific Palisades, Calif., group that advocates for improved means to fight wildfires.
“At what point can we maintain control, or at what point do these fires burn out of control?”
Aero Union closed after the U.S. Forest Service canceled a contract worth a guaranteed minimum $14.5 million a year for firefighting services by six P-3 Orion air tankers. The Forest Service said Aero Union wasn’t keeping up with inspections for those planes.
Aero Union is contesting the revocation in federal administrative court. Dallas-based Comerica bank foreclosed on Aero Union and offered the MAFFS-related assets at auction last winter. They failed to sell.
A bank spokesman declined to discuss any plans for those assets.
The Forest Service has stockpiled enough major parts, can source many smaller parts, and can mend the biggest parts no longer being made to keep the system running, said Scott Fisher, MAFFS coordinator for the Forest Service.
“The system was built for at least 20 years,” he said. “I would not be surprised to see this thing fly for a full 30 years.”
Eight of the planes were flying until a North Carolina Air National Guard C130 crashed in South Dakota on July 1, the first major accident in MAFFS program history. The crash killed four of six crew members and was still being investigated.
Forest Service officials said it was too soon to say if the MAFFS device on board, or any portion of it, might be salvageable.
“They can probably patch them up. But I think there may still be some issues on the unit itself where they may need an engineering team to get in there and work out any bugs,” said Mike Archer, a wildfire consultant in Glendora, Calif.
The loss of technical help, especially, could prove troublesome while the Forest Service works out bugs in the latest-generation MAFFS II system in use since last year, he suggested.
“They haven’t really used them enough, I don’t think, to find out some of the problems,” Archer said of the Forest Service and its workers contracted to maintain the MAFFS.
Forest Service officials insist the system is and will remain viable for years to come.
Meanwhile, the Forest Service has contracted technicians in California, Wyoming and Idaho to maintain the MAFFS. An in-house engineer at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, can help troubleshoot any bugs, Fisher said.
“In any new system you’re going to have some issues come up, and we’ve been able to work through them,” Fisher said.
Aero Union’s last chief executive, Britt Gourley of Seattle, declined to comment on the system’s continued viability.
“I may have my personal opinions, but I keep them to myself. I don’t know. I wish the Forest Service well and wish all the folks involved well,” Gourley said.
More Related Stories
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Kaitlyn Hunt refuses plea offer, will go to court over high school relationship
- DHS admits "impossible" to control 3D-printed guns
- Journalists file suit against Manning trial secrecy
- Russia: Syrian regime ready to talk peace
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Ted Cruz against the world
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- 2 men arrested for endangering commercial aircraft
- Oversized load blamed for bridge collapse
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Iran hackers aiming at U.S. energy firms
- Lawyers release data in attempt to discredit Trayvon Martin
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Bridge collapse: Part of "aging infrastructure"
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Interstate 5 bridge collapses north of Seattle
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11