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Wetter, Cooler Weather Lets DoD Support to Calif. Fires Stand Down

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2003 – Wetter, cooler weather have helped firefighting efforts in California so much that a battalion alerted for firefighting duty has been released, Pentagon officials said.

Also, C-130s equipped with mobile airborne firefighting systems have been released. The aircraft flew back to their bases in California, Colorado, Wyoming and North Carolina Nov. 2.

A military firefighting battalion had been alerted Oct. 30 for deployment to the fire lines beginning Nov. 5. But now the 560-man battalion will not be needed, state officials said.

The military stands ready to help civilian firefighters when requested, Pentagon officials said. Local military officials can assist in emergencies without getting approval from Washington.

Officials said that 10 of the 12 largest fires have been 80 percent contained. Local officials estimate that the Old Fire in San Bernardino County and the Paradise Fire in San Diego County are 65 percent contained. The progress is so good that the military Joint Task Force Firefighting will stand down in the next day or two.

The firefighting effort continues, and officials now are requesting surveillance platforms to ensure the fire does not re-ignite. State officials requested military Predator unmanned aerial vehicles to aid this surveillance effort.

Residents are starting to return to the stricken areas. Many are returning to find their homes and other structures burned to the ground. The wildfires were the most destructive in California history, said state officials.

The wildfires have caused 16 deaths in California, officials said. President Bush declared the counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Ventura federal disaster areas Oct. 27. Current news reports show fires have burned more than 3,400 homes. State officials said thousands were evacuated as the fires approached and that the fires have burned more than 800,000 acres.

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