Navy, Marines deploy firefighting helicopters in Southern California
By CARL PRINE | The San Diego Union-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 8, 2017
Across California, active-duty, reserve and National Guard commanders began mobilizing military might to support firefighters battling blazes.
At Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, commanders from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303, the “Stingers” of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267 and the “Heavy Haulers” of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 attended a planning session with Navy officials to coordinate firefighting efforts.
The Navy is deploying two firefighting helicopters equipped with special buckets for dumping water on the blazes near Camp Pendleton. The North Island-based MH-60S Seahawk helicopters will come from the “Merlins” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 3 and the “Blackjacks” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 and team up with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection units.
“Navy HSC squadrons regularly train for this mission and are prepared to conduct firefighting missions at the Navy's Southern California offshore training ranges, and they conduct semi-annual joint training with Cal Fire to ensure interoperability and an immediate response capability in support of local authorities for emergency events,” Navy spokesman Brian O’Rourke said by email.
The Marines will chip in two UH-1Y Venoms to directly support ground crews battling the Lilac Fire, with two CH-53E Super Stallions on standby. The Venom can dump up to 320 gallons of water on a blaze and the Super Stallion carries a 900-gallon bucket.
Marine spokeswoman Capt. Morgan Frazer told the San Diego Union-Tribune in an email that the level of aerial firefighting support will depend on weather forecasts analyzing high-wind conditions throughout the weekend.
In October, Venoms dipped their buckets in Lake O’Neil and then doused fires sweeping across northern Camp Pendleton.
On Thursday, multiple crews from the Camp Pendleton Fire Department began attacking the Bonsall blaze burning east of the base.
Marine commanders issued no evacuation orders to base residents but they opened the military installation to nearby community members evacuating their horses from the fires. Marine Corps Community Services’ Stepp Stables continues to take in horses in need of a safe haven.
As wildfires began to sweep Ventura County, the California Army National Guard activated the 670th Military Police Co. of National City, but the unit had yet to receive a specific request to support operations in San Diego County, according to Guard spokesman Capt. Will Martin in Sacramento.
Martin reported Friday that nearly 1,350 California Army and Air National Guard personnel are now battling six wildfires that have charred more than 137,000 acres.They’re providing fire crews with everything from logistical support to an MQ-9 Reaper for drone aerial reconnaissance, he said.
Wildfires now threaten about 20,000 homes and more than 195,000 residents are under evacuation orders, according to the Pentagon’s National Guard Bureau.
At the 146th Airlift Wing in Port Hueneme, Ventura County, California Air National Guard loaded the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System into a a pair of C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, converting the lumbering plane into an overhead firetruck.
The five pressurized tanks can spit 2,700 gallons of fire-retardant in five seconds, carving a fire line that’s 60 feet wide and a quarter-mile long through a blaze, according to the system’s manufacturer.
At Moffett Air National Guard Base in Santa Clara County, officials announced late Thursday that they were prepping the 129th Rescue Wing for emergency operations in Southern California. The initial deployment will send about 25 airmen, including experienced Security Forces Squadron members, along with logistics support troops and an MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft, to Los Alamitos to support rescuers searching for residents trapped by the Thomas Fire and other emerging blazes.
“With the aggressive wildfires spreading in Southern California, I have nothing but confidence in our readiness and our ability to stay focused on the tasks at hand like we’ve done so many times before across the country and around the world,” said Col. Taft O. Aujero, the 129th Rescue Wing commander, by email. “The women and men of the 129th Rescue Wing are nothing short of extraordinary, and I am blown away at their ability to answer the distress call at a moment’s notice.”
Over the summer, the 129th Rescue Wing saved scores of Texans trapped by floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey and later deployed to Florida to support recovery operations after Hurricane Irma.
To aid displaced troops, military retirees and their families in evacuated areas, the Virginia-based Defense Health Agency also moved to enact emergency prescription refill procedures. The temporary rules will allow more than 300,000 beneficiaries in San Diego and Santa Barbara counties to obtain prescribed medication without a referral. Affected residents are urged to take their prescription bottles to any pharmacy in the Tricare network. Those residents who have lost vital medical equipment are urged to contact their managed care coordinators immediately for help.
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