Fires continue to burn at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, while Marines and civilian authorities fight to contain the fires and keep them on the base.
Marines and aircraft with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing assist Cal Fire and local firefighting agencies with wildfires spreading through the San Marcos area. Fires began breaking out Thursday, and crews are struggling to contain them. “A heat wave, drought and strong winds created the perfect recipe to feed the recent wildfire that spread across Northern Camp Pendleton, Calif., destroying more than 6,000 acres, May 14, 2014,” according to Marines.mil. Marines continue to fight wildfires ablaze in California.
Marines and fire crew on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, are responding to wildfires ablaze in southern California May 14, 2014. The Tomahawk fire, in the northeast section of Camp Pendleton has burned more than 6,000 acres forcing evacuations of housing areas on base and various schools both on and off base. Aircraft from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and the Camp Pendleton Fire Department worked in coordination with CALFIRE to prevent fires from spreading off base. Marine officials are coordinating with CALFIRE for the further use of military aircraft pending the wildfire status within San Diego County.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua Murray/Released)
This early beginning to wildfire season makes the mission of creating firebreaks throughout approximately 120 miles around base more important than ever.
Facilities Maintenance Division and seven Marines with 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, began working toward this goal May 6, 2014 and will continue to cover the vast Camp Pendleton areas through Aug. 10, 2014.
“We do this once a year and it starts at the beginning of May every year,” said Randy Branim, heavy equipment operator who is leading the firebreaks operation with FMD. “The concept is to knock all the brush off and clean it up so it doesn’t allow any fire to jump over it.”
The largest and perhaps the most important firebreaks, which FMD employees and 7th ESB Marines will maintain, encircle the outskirts of Camp Pendleton.
“There’s a perimeter break around almost all of Camp Pendleton,” said Branim. “This ensures the fire won’t go off base.”
Containing these fires to the site in which they originally ignited does more than help ensure the safety of the locals living in the communities that surround the base.
“Once a fire goes off base, we no longer have full control of it and it can do some damage,” said Ruben Salas, transportation mobile equipment operator supervisor, FMD. “Once it’s off base, we also have to pay for the damages, so it saves us millions of dollars a year.”
In addition to the firebreaks that line the base, FMD and 7th ESB will cut out brush surrounding impact areas of the various training ranges.
“It’s important to go around the impact areas of course, because that’s where a lot of the fires on base start,” said Branim. “All it takes is a spark from small arms fire.”
For many of these Marines who will gain the bulk of their experience on this equipment while creating these firebreaks, driving the dozers up some of the steepest peaks on base is a daunting task.
“Trying to make level cuts is probably the hardest part. When you’re coming down hill, you’re coming straight down,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Brown, engineer equipment operator, Support Company, 7th ESB, 1st MLG. “Climbing up some pretty steep hills in a dozer is scary. You’re going straight up, so all you see is the sky when you’re driving up hill, but level cuts make it so that the fire trucks can have easier access up to a fire in the mountains.”