A second firefighting plane from Colorado Springs' 302nd Airlift Wing has been called to battle wildland blazes raging across the West.
The four-engine C-130 is equipped to drop retardant that slows the advance of wildfires. The new crew will join comrades deployed six weeks ago to Fresno, Calif.
"Our Air Force reservists are trained and ready to provide additional support," the wing's commander, Col. James DeVere, said in an email.
The first part-time airmen from Peterson Air Force Base left Colorado Springs in July to help fight wildfires. By Thursday morning, 1.4 million acres were ablaze from the Cascades to the west to the Rockies in the east, reported the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
The Air Force has played a big role in fighting those fires, with 266 retardant drops since July 27 that sprayed more than 700,000 gallons for the fire-stopping chemical slurry.
The second plane from the 302nd flew from Colorado Springs on Wednesday evening and was expected to join the battle Thursday afternoon.
Wing spokeswoman Ann Skarban said morale is high among the firefighting airmen.
"It's a mission they greatly appreciate being able to support," she said.
It's also a mission that requires a great deal of skill.
The C-130 crews fly low over fires, nearly at the plane's stall speed, to drop retardant with precision. The planes carry a retardant system built by the U.S. Forest Service that can spray a fireline a quarter-mile long and 100 feet wide in a single drop.
The retardant doesn't douse fires, but it slows them, giving ground crews a chance to snuff out the flames.
The two Colorado Springs planes are joined in the fight by a C-130 from the California National Guard.
It has been a horrific fire season in the West. One blaze in northern Oregon was so aggressive that it sent embers a mile across the Columbia River, sparking a fire in neighboring Washington.
The fires also have blackened some of America's most scenic lands, including parts of Yellowstone and Glacier national parks.
The fire center reported that 76 major fires were burning across the West, including four new blazes reported Thursday.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240