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As Kern County Blaze Roars Annual Aerial Firefighter Training Is Underway

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PORT HUENEME (CBSLA.com) — As the Grand Fire in Frazier Park continues to burn the U.S. Forest Service is teaching groups of firefighters new ways to fight flames from the sky.

Dozens of Southland firefighters are learning how to better fight brush fires with officials gearing up for what they fear will be an especially busy and dangerous fire season.

Today’s fire in Frazier Park burned 3,000 acres just north of Los Angeles County by Thursday evening, and the Forest Service says it serves as an example of the importance of training personnel in how to safely perform air missions.

“Low altitude flying requires a greater discipline than, say, cruising 35,000 feet across the country,” Lt. Col. Bill Wilson of the International Guard told CBS2’s Amy Johnson.

The Forest Service, alongside the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing, began conducting its annual training and certification program for the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System II Monday.

The MAFFS II, which slides into the back of the military C-130 four-engine turboprop, is capable of dropping up to 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant.

Over 100 Forest Service and military aircrew are being trained to fly the air tanker missions together at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in Port Hueneme in effort to expedite response times.

“We want to make sure that we’re ready to put all of these fires out when they do start – very safely and quickly,” said Nathan Judy of the U.S. Forest Service.

But mid-way through the week-long course, concern is being raised that a 20 percent federal budget cut for the International Guard due to the sequester could impact how quickly crews can respond.

“Our full-time technicians are affected by the furlough that’s coming, so from a management point of view I have to stagger their furlough days so I’ve got availability,” Col. Paul J. Hargrove, 146th Airlift Wing Commander, said.

Firefighters have already seen conditions this spring usually present in August and September.

Earlier this month members of the International Guard were brought in to help battle the Springs Fire after local resources were exhausted.

“We always come through but it makes things a lot harder to deal with,” Hargrove said.

RELATED STORY:

3000-Acre Kern County Fire Forces Evacuations As It Spreads Toward Los Angeles

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