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Defense Department Continues Aid on California’s Fire Front

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2007 – Military C-130s with modular air firefighting systems this morning began dropping fire retardant and water on wildfires plaguing California. They will continue the effort as long as wind conditions allow, defense officials said.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan watch as smoke from California's devastating wildfires billows behind the San Diego skyline Oct. 23, 2007. Naval facilities throughout the region have opened their gates to provide food, shelter and supplies to the displaced families of servicemembers. Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kathleen Gorby, USN
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

A total of 16 wildfires have burned more than 360,000 acres in Southern California, and hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated from homes in danger areas, California National Guard officials said today.

California officials said that five people have died as a result of the fires; more than 2,100 homes and other structures have been destroyed or damaged; and more than 87,500 structures are in danger from the fast-moving fires. Santa Ana winds, often blowing at speeds up to 100 miles per hour, have complicated firefighting efforts, officials said.

Fourteen helicopters from the California National Guard, the Navy and Marine Corps are using buckets to drop water on the blazes, officials said.

Everything California has asked the Defense Department for has been delivered, U.S. Northern Command officials said, and command officials are leaning forward to anticipate what the state might need as the crisis continues.

Thirty-two active-duty servicemembers, 67 defense civilians and 1,500 National Guardsmen are directly engaged in immediate response, supporting firefighting response, command and control, logistics support, security, communications and relief operations, U.S. Northern Command officials said. U.S. Northern Command is responsible for coordinating defense support to civil authorities in emergencies.

A total of 550 Marines and 17,301 California National Guardsmen are standing by, available for duty if needed. The Marines are going through firefighting training in anticipation of being called. Officials at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said that federal firefighters will flow into the area over the next few days

About 1,400 Navy personnel and their families have been evacuated onto three Navy bases: Coronado, El Centro and San Diego. This clears civilian shelters for more evacuees.

The Marine Corps has evacuated about 40 aircraft from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, officials said.

An Aegis cruiser, a guided-missile destroyer and two fast frigates will remain in port to support evacuation and movement of dependents.

Local military installations have provided about 10,000 cots to local evacuation sites, NORTHCOM officials said. In response to a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Defense Department has designated March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif., and North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego for use as forward staging areas for federal supplies flowing south from the FEMA logistics center at Moffitt Field, Calif.

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