California Air National Guard Activates to Fight Massive Wildfires

The Woolsey fire gets dangerously close to the flightline at Channel Islands Air Guard Station, Calif. Screenshot from 146th Airlift Wing video.

All five California Air National Guard wings have activated airmen in support of firefighting efforts, Lt. Col. Bryan Williams, spokesman for the 195th Wing at Beale AFB, Calif., told Air Force Magazine.

The Camp Fire—the deadliest in California history—has claimed at least 43 lives, scorched more than 100,000 acres, and completely destroyed the town of Paradise, located at the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Beale, which is located about one county away from the fire, has not been impacted, other than some “smoke and haziness,” said base officials. The base has not received any requests for surveillance of the local area, and the base’s U-2s and KC-135s have not been evacuated as of Tuesday.

Air Guardsmen with the 195th are on station near Paradise, helping to feed those displaced by the fire, setting up a tent city for evacuees to receive support, and providing security in the area. Some airmen are either living in the tent city or inside the armory, “so they can be within arms-reach” if called upon, said Williams.

The wing’s intelligence analysts also are manning pad cells in the North and South of the state, where they are monitoring live feeds from remotely piloted aircraft and other intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms, helping to plot fire lines and predict what homes might be affected so evacuation decisions can be made.

Williams said communications has been a challenge, but a mobile team remains on standby to provide comms. One airmen with the 195th “lost his entire home” in the blaze, though he was able to safely evacuate and is staying with family near Chico, Calif., said Williams.

“Our wing commander is attempting to get in contact with him, but he hasn’t been in a position yet where he can speak with anybody,” said Williams. “It’s pretty traumatic for a lot of the folks up here right now.”

In the South the Woolsey Fire is so close to the Channel Islands Air Guard Station in Ventura County, that airmen can take photos and video from the flightline, a spokeswoman told Air Force Magazine.

Two C-130s equipped with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) were activated on Nov. 11 and flew their first mission Tuesday in support of California Fire.