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146th AW deploys to fight Israeli wildfires

  • Published
  • By Maj. Kimberly Holman
  • 146AW
California Air National Guard fire-fighting assets from the 146th Airlift Wing were called upon in the first week of December to assist with a wildfire burning out of control in Israel. On Dec. 4 a C-130J equipped with MAFFS 2, (modular airborne fire fighting systems), one of the world's newest and most effective technologies in firefighting, departed for Israel along with a C130H from Colorado Springs' Air Force Reserve Base.

The 146th scrambled together more than XX Airmen as news of the worst fire in Israel's history went global, killing more than 44 and injuring 17 in less than four days before the fire was contained.

The California Air National Guard became part of an international effort to halt the deadly wildfire and was one piece of a five-aircraft U.S. Defense Department package. This package included two C-130s from the U.S. European Command out of Ramstein Air Base in Germany that brought in 20 tons of fire retardant, the U.S. Agency for International Development said.

In addition to the United States, the rest of the world displayed an unprecedented outpouring of support as countries to include Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Bulgaria, Russia, Egypt and even Turkey sent aide to Israel. Relations between Turkey and Israel became tense last spring when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza, killing nine people.

"I really appreciate Turkey's help; we will find a way to express our appreciation," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters while visiting fire survivors at a hospital in Haifa.

Wing Commander Paul Hargrove was sent ahead to Tel Aviv with seven other members of wing leadership as part of an advanced party in order to receive the deployed California aircraft and personnel when they landed.

Prior to the California aircraft arriving in country, however, nature intervened, and miraculously rain fell for the first time in six months putting an end to the fires. Rain arrived two hours before dawn on Dec. 5. The prayers of the people had been answered, but not before taking the lives of many.

Most of the 44 lives claimed by the fire occurred when a bus carrying young prison guard cadets to help with the evacuation of a nearby prison was trapped by a downed tree on the road. A fast-moving wall of fire engulfed the bus before they could escape. The victims included 37 cadets and their commanding officers, the bus driver, and three firefighters who died trying to rescue them.

The fire started Dec. 2 on Mount Carmel near the northern-city of Haifa on a reserve known as "Little Switzerland", a popular tourist destination for its beauty, and home to a wildlife preservation project which seeks to protect and bring back native species mentioned in the Old Testament. Much of this preserve was destroyed in the fire, officials said. The fire spread extremely rapidly fueled by high winds and dry vegetation, after an unusually hot summer and many months without rain.

Israel has been criticized by many for ignoring what they knew to be true-- that their firefighting measures could not provide an answer to forest fires of this magnitude. They do not have the equipment needed to fight wildfires and have not addressed the problem until now.
Taking advantage of an opportunity presented to them, the Israeli government requested the California Air National Guardsmen who were already in Israel to brief mid and upper-level leadership in Netanyahu's military before returning to the 146th Airlift Wing. Lt. Col. John Cappello, Air Attache to the U.S. Embassy in Israel met and escorted Col. Hargrove and his staff during their visit. They were introduced to and briefed 131st Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Asaf Geva, Nevatim Air Force Base Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Eden Attais, and the Military Secretary to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Maj. Gen. Yohanan Locker. They provided the Israeli military detailed briefings of our firefighting capabilities and the advantages of using the military.
"They have C-130 aircraft and are very interested in the MAFFS 2 system that we employ," said Hargrove. "We look forward to assisting them in the future to ensure the Israelis have an aerial firefighting capability."
"We were witness to some monumental bridges that were built; bridges that went beyond the fires," said Lt. Col. Bryan Allen, one of the 146th AW's MAFFS pilots who was part of the advanced party. "Adversarial countries dropped animosities to assist Israel during their crisis," he said.