National Guard Attacks California Wildfires by Air, Land
By Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
SAN DIEGO, Oct. 24, 2007 Army National Guard helicopters were attacking southern California’s ferocious wildfires, and Guard soldiers on the ground were manning traffic control points and preparing to provide people who had lost their homes with some of the necessities of life here yesterday.
The newspaper headline “Help From Above” summed up how aircraft, including National Guard helicopters carrying big Bambi buckets, which scoop up water to dump on fires, were trying to bring under control the firestorm that has forced some 500,000 residents to flee the devastated, seven-county region since last weekend.
“This is true and pure homeland defense. This is my home. I live here. This is what I joined to do,” said California Army Guard 1st Lt. Robi Yucas, who was coordinating the Guard’s aviation assets here even as his wife, daughter and dog were preparing to evacuate their fire-threatened home in Oceanside.
Yucas, from 1st Battalion, 140th Aviation, was part of a crew that was diverted from the Operation Jump Start mission along the California-Mexican border to support civilian authorities here.
Four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were dispatched from border duty to the firefighting mission in support of the California Department of Forestry, and two more Black Hawks and two larger CH-47 Chinooks were expected to fly in.
A California Guard S-70 Firehawk, specially designed for firefighting missions, also was expected to join the battle against the inferno of a dozen fires that, by yesterday, had scorched 600 square miles and destroyed a reported 1,800 homes.
It prompted the largest evacuation in California history, from north of Los Angeles south to San Diego, according to media reports.
Meanwhile, 1,500 soldiers from the California Guard’s 40th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducted presence patrols to prevent looting, manned traffic control points and prepared to assist people at QualComm Stadium and the Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego, where thousands of people are waiting out the fires. The Guard soldiers were supporting the San Diego County sheriff’s department.
“(This has) been probably the most proactive response to a domestic event that I have seen in my 40 years in uniform,” said Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “And we continue to be flexible and agile to meet the needs of Governor (Arnold) Schwarzenegger and the citizens of California as they're ravaged by what is a very dangerous and unpredictable fire.”
Schwarzenegger on Oct. 22 directed that the 1,500 Guard troops be made available for the firefighting mission.
About 70 Guard soldiers were on duty yesterday at QualComm Stadium, where large stockpiles of water, food and clothing were ready for the displaced people who needed them.
Some of the Guard soldiers were pulled off border duty to help with the firefighting mission and for their own safety from the fires.
The Air National Guard was expected to reinforce the fight from the air with four C-130 Military Airborne Fire Fighting Systems from North Carolina and Wyoming. The planes that drop large amounts of fire retardant were set to be staged at the Navy’s Point Mugu facility.
(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill is assigned to the National Guard Bureau.)