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DoD Aids Florida Firefighters

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 14, 1998 – More than 1,500 reserve component service members have helped in efforts to contain wildfires burning in Florida.

Most service members are Florida National Guardsmen called up by Gov. Lawton Chiles for the emergency. A total of 1,536 guardsmen and 42 active duty military and DoD civilians supported the firefighting effort. The Air Force used C-5 Galaxys and C-141 Starlifters to transport the firefighters and equipment.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, the Air Force, through U.S. Transportation Command, flew 258 firefighters and 74 fire engines to Florida. The Marine Corps sent 33 Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., and brought in material for a medium girder bridge. The bridge allows firefighters to move heavy equipment into threatened areas.

DoD also provided bulldozers, forklifts, support vehicles and a tracked firefighting vehicle. The National Guard provided Kiowa, Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters as well as bulldozers, water tankers and high-mobility vehicles.

Nearly 2,400 fires in Florida's 67 counties had burned about 500,000 acres between Memorial Day and July 14. Lightning started most of the fires, and a severe drought worsened the situation. Firefighters were only able to bring the blazes under control after a week of rain began across the state July 7. State emergency management officials estimated July 14 that the major fires in all areas were 90 percent to 100 percent contained.

President Clinton has declared affected areas federal disaster areas. The Florida panhandle and counties along the northern Atlantic coast have been most severely damaged; state officials July 14 estimated damages at $393 million and firefighting costs at $133 million.

The Florida emergency management Web site at http://www.state.fl.us/comaff/DEM/ maintains continually updated wildfire statistics, situation reports and links to other related sites.

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