BOISE -- Standing at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) headquarters in Boise at the height of firefighting season could easily make your head spin.
Commercial and military pilots are in and out of this loading zone like a carousel. Each plane fills-up with 2,000 or 3,000 gallons of red fire retardant.
On Wednesday, dozens of planes landed, and then loaded-up thousands of gallons of fire retardant. Each stop meant another trip to help fight fires across southwestern Idaho.
The biggest of those planes to refuel are the U.S. military's specially-built C-130 aircraft.
"We're here to support the forest service,” said Major Ron Yochum, the commander of the C-130 Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems (MAFFS). “They call us when they need us. We're always ready and willing to do this.
Yochum and his team retrofit the C-130’s, which are normally military cargo planes, with a 3,000 gallon tank that can hold water or fire retardant.
"We're there to help the boots on the ground as much as possible. They're the ones that are actually, they're in danger," said Yochum.
Each year NIFC contracts out with a private company to fight the fires from the air. However, when the fires get to the point where the private planes aren't enough, the military lends a wing.
"It takes all of us in the firefighting community to stop a fire. It takes people on the ground, in the air," said Darlene Mullins with the U.S. Forest Service.
Mullins helps coordinate the planes and the missions. She says the retardant doesn't put out the fire, but rather it slows the flames down.
"It gives opportunity for those people on the ground to dig in line, to actually stop that fire," said Mullins.
From the air, the pilots have perspective and can see just how important it is that they move quickly.
"If you're trying to protect a house or something, it breaks your heart, because that's somebody's house that you're trying to protect as much as possible. And everyone on the ground and in the air is working as hard as they can to protect that house or structure at that point," said Yochum.
The military operates only eight retrofitted C-130's in the United States. Four are here in Idaho, two are in Utah, and two are in California. Each fire season, they average around 283 drops.