For dozens of local airmen, fire season never really ends. They have to stay ready to head to the front lines on short notice. The 302nd Airlift Wing is gearing up for another year out in the flames and smoke.
Flames rule the ground in the heat of a wildfire, and relief is often expected from the sky.
"People always ask where are those grey planes to put the fires out?" said Lieutenant Colonel David Condit.
The grey planes are the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) C-130s from Peterson Air Force base equipped to carry a special cargo: 3000 gallons of it.
"We've seen fires around and we think that's an indicator we're going to have a busy fire season,” said Condit. Condit and a staff of 72 reservists make up the team in the air, which carries troops and supplies during combat and makes water or slurry bombing runs during fire season.
"This is a more hazardous mission that we normally perform. We do it at 150 feet off the ground, which is half the distance in combat we fly from the ground," Condit said.
The MAFFS Airmen are first and foremost military experts before they are firefighters. Every year the crew re-certifies to carry out the mission away from the battlefield to help at home, one drop at a time.
"It's a whole different level of enjoyment to be able to assist in fires in our own backyard and to see the faces of the people we've just helped," said Condit.
The certification training is currently underway for the year. The 302nd will depart for Channel Islands Air National Base in California to continue the process next week.