Military Firefighting Planes Called Up to Battle Western Threat

Two military C-130 airplanes were activated this morning to help fight raging western wildfires, a spokesman told ABC News today.

The two planes belong to the Wyoming Air National Guard 153rd Air Wing and carry a portable tank called a MAFFS - short for Modular Airborne Firefighting System. MAFFS-equipped planes can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in only five seconds.

The aircraft will head from Wyoming to a base in Boise, Idaho, today, and will be assigned to specific fires Sunday, said Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a MAFFS spokesman with the North Carolina Air National Guard.

"We are mobilizing MAFFS to ensure that we continue to have adequate air tanker capability as we experience very challenging wildfire conditions in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, and elsewhere in the West," said Aitor Bidaburu with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho in a press release.

MAFFS 6, a C130J from the 146th Airlift Wing in Port Hueneme, Calif., drops a line of retardant over the trees in the mountains above Palm Springs July 19, 2013.

There are eight MAFFS planes in total at bases around the country that are called up when fire activity is high and the U.S. Forest Service runs short on federally-contracted civilian firefighting planes.

In recent years the Forest Service has been criticized for a critical shortage of firefighting air tankers. The fleet has shrunk from around 50 a decade ago to 15 this year. Many of the planes are aging relics dating back to the Korean War.

The Forest Service has increasingly been awarding firefighting contracts to more modern jet aircraft.

Of the 15 non-MAFFS firefighting planes available this fire season, nine are the newer "next generation" air tankers, said Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Forest Service. The remaining six are older, so-called "legacy" planes, Jones said.

A C-130H Hercules from the 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., drops water May 2, 2007, at the Albuquerque (N.M.) Air Tanker Base.