Montana lawmakers want answers from Air Force on firefighting systems

Montana lawmakers want answers from Air Force on firefighting systems
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An Air National Guard decision to relocate military firefighting systems from North Carolina to Nevada instead of Montana has rankled lawmakers from the Treasure State. 

Both Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Rep. Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWatchdog: Trump official boosted former employer in Interior committee membership Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE (R-Mont.) have sent letters to Air Force officials asking why the modular airborne fire fighting systems, or MAFFS, were sent to Reno, Nevada, when Montana and surrounding states suffer from more wildfires.

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"I am incredibly disappointed with this decision as it denies a vital wildland fire suppression mission to the State of Montana, where almost three times as many wildland fires occurred last year compared to Nevada," Daines, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, wrote in a letter last week to Air Force Secretary Deborah James. 

"The ability to reach a catastrophic forest fire quickly can not only save millions in fire suppression costs, it can save structures, and most importantly, lives," Zinke wrote in an April 6 letter to Air Mobility Command commander Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II. 

In his letter, Daines asked the following questions: 

— "What metrics and scoring criteria did the Air Force, in consultation with the National Guard, use to determine the 152 Airlift Wing in Reno, Nevada would be the most cost effective and fire suppression effective location for the MAFFs from North Carolina?"

— "The MAFFs located in North Carolina previously deployed multiple fire seasons to Montana. Will the MAFFs, once located in Nevada, still deploy to Montana each summer?" 

— "What will the Air Force do to ensure Montana has the aerial fire suppression capabilities it needs to combat devastating wildland fires?"

Currently, eight MAFFs exist in the U.S. and are operated by four C-130 units: the 153rd Airlift Wing of the Wyoming Air National Guard in Cheyenne, Wyo.; the 145th Airlift Wing of the North Carolina Air National Guard in Charlotte, N.C.; the 146th Airlift Wing of the California Air National Guard in Port Hueneme, Calif.; and the 302nd Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Washington, Idaho and Montana suffered one of the deadliest and costliest summers of forest fires last year, and moving the systems to Nevada will leave those states without quick air support, according to Zinke, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. 

“I look at the decision to move the firefighting systems to a state that ranks dead last in forested land, versus Montana, which has more than 20 million acres of dense forest, and it just doesn't add up,” he told The Hill on Monday. 

“The notion that Reno, Nevada, is a better place for the firefighting systems does not add up. Neighboring California already has these systems. To fly from Reno to Washington or Montana will take more than two hours. That  could mean the difference between a fire being contained quickly or growing out of control and turning deadly,” he said.