Military Personnel to Enter Fire Lines Next Week
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 30, 2003 About 560 military personnel will enter the fire lines in California around Nov. 3, Pentagon officials said today.
The "firefighting battalion" will help with the Cedar Fire in San Diego County. Officials could not say what service or where the battalion will come from. The troops must still go through training and be certified before they can deploy to the fire lines.
The battalion will join the Defense Department's airborne attack on the most destructive fires in California's history. Six modular airborne firefighting system C-130s and six helicopters with fire suppression buckets already have begun missions.
The C-130s come from Colorado, Wyoming, North Carolina and California. The helicopters are from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, Calif.
DoD also has stood up Joint Task Force Fire Fighting at the Point Mugu/Channel Islands Naval Air Station. The task force will coordinate DoD's contribution to the effort.
The National Imagery and Mapping Agency is providing up-to-date imagery of the affected area to the National Interagency Fire Center.
DoD firefighting assets are helping out in many other ways. Civilian firefighters from Camp Pendleton and Miramar have been helping local fire departments since the wildfires broke out a week ago.
Officials said local military commanders have immediate response authority to commit military assets if they deem the situation critical. California National Guardsmen have been called up on a state mission to fight the fires.
The wildfires did scorch Camp Pendleton and Miramar, but they are 100 percent contained on those installations. Several 3rd Fleet ships including the aircraft carrier USS Stennis returned to port to allow the crews to support family members living in areas affected by the fires.
Many military families were evacuated from their homes. The hospital ship USNS Mercy housed some 120 families. All have now returned to their homes. Housing is being made available on Camp Pendleton and Miramar for military families who lost their civilian homes.
The wildfires have been blamed for 16 deaths in California. President Bush declared the counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Ventura federal disaster areas Oct. 27. The fires have burned more than 2,500 homes and threaten more than 70,000 other structures. More than 750,000 acres have been burned.