Military Asked To Fill Gaps Left By USFS

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We've all seen the damage wildfires caused to our community. Now, Senator Mark Udall is hoping to prevent another disaster by adding more air support.

We talked to people who remember well the day their homes burned in our state’s two most destructive wildfires. They watched and waited for the C-130 tankers to take off from Peterson Air Force Base. Those tankers are also known as Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS).

The U.S. Forest Service, working with three separate contractors, was supposed to have a fleet of seven New Generation air tankers ready for this fire season.

"These tankers promised to be a game changer for western communities grappling with the perennial threat of modern mega-fires. Since then, I have been repeatedly assured that they will be delivered at any moment," Udall wrote on his letter to the U.S. Forest Service. "While I am pleased that two of these safer, faster and more reliable tankers are now available to join the existing fleet of approximately 20 large air tankers — which is an improvement from 2013 — I am deeply concerned that delivery of the remaining five will be further delayed and unavailable for the 2014 wildfire season. This is unacceptable."

Senator Udall has also been pushing for the military to help fill the gap in air support.

“A shorter response time by MAFFS assets would help fill gaps in the U.S. Forest Service tanker fleet and would help provide an effective initial response capable of containing fires early," Udall wrote in a letter to the Pentagon.

In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire burned 347 homes; last year the Black Forest Fire destroyed another 486 homes.

A big point of contention for homeowners in Mountain Shadows is the fact that air support wasn't deployed right away.

"It would've made a huge impact and I may not have lost my house...I truly believe that," Kismet Skolnicki said.

The USFS has just two of seven Next Generation air tankers ready to go. That's why Udall has asked the military to step in and fill the gap with eight of their MAFFS.

"Military has heard the call, they're ready to ride the sound of the guns, they're doing the training necessary," Udall said.

Those who have lost their homes to a massive wildfire said every minute counts. This plan will hopefully make the difference in saving someone's home.

"Learning from the past and being able to move forward and making sure the response time is much quicker so that less is lost," Lori Morgan said.

These new USFS tankers are supposed to be safer, faster and more reliable. They're a part of 22 large air tankers currently available, including the eight military MAFFS.

As of now, we’re told it's unclear when the other five USFS tankers will be ready.