Report: Old, unexploded ordnance caused Camp Hansen range fire
April 23, 2005
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — No training or maintenance activity by Marines currently on Camp Hansen caused a range fire that destroyed about 198 acres in the adjacent Central Training Area earlier this month, investigators have reported.
“Investigators have concluded that the fire was started by the spontaneous ignition of ancient, unexploded ordnance,” said spokesman 1st Lt. Eric Tausch in a Marine Corps statement released Thursday. “The fire was contained within the U.S. installation, burning for 41 hours and affecting approximately 80 hectares (198 acres).”
Damage estimates in Thursday’s report were considerably smaller than the 370-acre estimate reported just after the fire was put out.
Earlier accounts had stated the ordnance was a Vietnam-era white phosphorous rocket, but Thursday’s statement did not disclose the type of ordnance that exploded. “Specific information on the type of ordnance is not released for operational reasons,” Tausch said in answer to a Stars and Stripes query. “It is impossible to determine why the ordnance spontaneously exploded, since it was consumed in the fire.”
Marines initially reported the blaze had ignited during a routine search and disposal of unexploded ordnance and that no live-fire training had taken place.
The fire started in Range 2 of the sprawling training area and spread to Range 3, licking at Mount Onna’s foot. Four Marine Corps fire trucks and two CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma worked with range control personnel to extinguish the fire.
A spokesman for the Naha Bureau of the Japan’s Defense Facilities Administration, known as the DFAB, said the extent of the land damage continues to be assessed.
“It will take a while before we could be able to estimate how many trees were destroyed or how much the compensation would be to landowners,” he said. Japan compensates the land owners for use of the property for a U.S. military base.
“The mountain surface is mostly covered by underbrush,” the Japanese official said. “Whether or not the area will need to be reseeded, or how much should be reseeded, is now under examination.”
Kin Mayor Tsuyoshi Gibu filed a protest about the fire with the DFAB, the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Okinawa Liaison Office and the U.S. Consulate. Kin hosts Camp Hansen and part of the Central Training Area. Local residents long have protested training that causes brush fires on what some Okinawans consider a sacred mountain.
Tausch said, “The Marine Corps takes range fire prevention and firefighting seriously; it is part of caring for the environment. As a matter of standard procedure, thorough and complete investigations are conducted any time fires occur.”
He said Marine environmental officials are meeting with Japanese counterparts “to discuss environmental issues associated with the affected area.”
He said Marine officials also will meet with DFAB officials to discuss coordinating firefighting and fire prevention between the agencies.
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.