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Reaper Drones, C-130Js Join Battle Against California Wildfires

A C-130J from the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in Port Hueneme, Calif., is shown in 2013. Two of the planes have been used in the fight against California wildfires this week, officials said. Senior Airman Nicholas Carzis/Air National Guard
A C-130J from the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in Port Hueneme, Calif., is shown in 2013. Two of the planes have been used in the fight against California wildfires this week, officials said. Senior Airman Nicholas Carzis/Air National Guard

Two military MQ-9 Reaper drones and two C-130J Hercules aircraft have joined local authorities in battling Southern California wildfires, which are being fanned by high winds and have jumped highways to destroy homes and and burn a path to the Pacific ocean, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

The two Air National Guard Reapers from the 163rd Attack Wing, flying out of March Air Reserve Base near Moreno Valley, California, are being used for surveillance and employing their infrared systems to detect hot spots, said Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

"The Reapers' infrared sensors yielded mission-critical thermal imagery on the afflicted area in real-time," according to a base release. "Airmen have mapped vast perimeters of six fires across four counties, encompassing some 77,000 acres and identifying some 1,500 burned structures."

Two C-130J aircraft from the 146th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard, flying out of Channel Islands Air National Guard Station near Oxnard, California, have Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) aboard to drop retardant on blazes that are still out of control.

The wildfires centered in Ventura County have forced about 27,000 residents to flee, local officials said, and Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.

At least 150 structures have been destroyed, officials said, and thousands of homes are at risk.

"This fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we'll continue to attack it with all we've got," Brown said. "It's critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.