Defense Personnel Continue Assault on California Blazes
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2007 Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard C-130s fitted with modular air firefighting systems hit the California wildfires hard yesterday, flying 18 sorties, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today.
The six aircraft took advantage of dying Santa Ana winds to drop fire retardant and allow California firefighters to make progress against the widespread blazes that destroyed or damaged thousands of homes and forced hundreds of thousands of Californians to evacuate their homes.
The aviation assault on the fires was only one part of the total Defense Department effort in aid of California firefighters.
There are now 13 active fires in southern California, U.S. Northern Command officials said. NORTHCOM is the Defense Department’s lead agency in the effort.
More than 461,000 acres have burned so far. At the Marines’ Camp Pendleton, more than 17,000 acres have burned, but officials say the fire is now 40 to 50 percent contained, Whitman said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked the Defense Logistics Agency to deliver more than 42,000 field-ration meals from the depot in San Joaquin, Calif.
“On the personnel side, we have 287 active duty, 84 Defense civilians and 2,562 National Guardsmen fighting the fires,” Whitman said. This leaves 17,000 California Guardsmen still available for duty if needed.
“We still have a Marine force of approximately 520 (Marines) and 18 helicopters available if needed,” Whitman said. A total of 35 helicopters and 14 fixed-wing aircraft are committed to the firefighting operations.
The Air Force is providing imagery for firefighters. Yesterday, a U-2 reconnaissance plane and a Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle flew over the affected portions of the state and sent imagery to the ground.
“The aircraft have live-feed capability, and (the imagery) is being centralized for dissemination,” Whitman said. Officials at NORTHCOM, the National Guard Bureau, the Joint Field Office, the state Emergency Operations Center and the Joint Task Force in California can directly download the information.
The imagery gives state authorities “situational awareness so they can prioritize where they send their firefighting assets,” Whitman said.
The U-2 and Global Hawk will fly more missions today and will be joined by a Navy P-3C Orion. Eighteen Defense Department fire engines and 84 personnel are involved in battling the blazes, NORTHCOM officials said.
San Diego officials announced that most evacuees may go home today and that Qualcomm Stadium will close as an evacuation center. The stadium has been home to more than 12,000 fire refugees for the past few days. More than 2,600 Defense Department evacuees are taking shelter at five Navy bases: San Diego, Coronado, Point Lomo, North Island and El Centro.
Some military assets that California had requested, including a mobile aeromedical staging activity, are not needed, and can stand down, officials said. But other military groups continue to flow into California. This includes the Joint Task Force Civil Support Joint Planning Augmentation Cell, which will deploy to the headquarters in Sacramento.
The California National Guard is preparing to provide relief for law enforcement, linguistics support, shelter administration, and redistribution of commodities and personnel, officials said.