Bridgeport, Calif. -- Erupting from a single lightning strike Southwest of Coleville, California, on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, the Slink Fire has spread to over 14,700 acres and is continuing to move South, Southwest into to the training areas of MCMWTC.
“The next 96 hours are critical,” said Col. Daniel Wittnam, commanding officer, MCMWTC, as he organized fire response during an operations sync aboard the base.
The staff officers and Marines of MWTC deviated from their typical training and education focused duties and continued fire response planning throughout the day, Sept. 3, sending requests to I Marine Expeditionary Force for further support to battle the blaze on the north portion of the base. They also focused attention on preparing the base for a possible evacuation.
Some key assets were evacuated, Sept. 3, that include a mix of approximately 60 horses, mules and donkeys that are used for animal packing and horsemanship courses at the Training Center. They are being evacuated to a safe area in the town of Bridgeport, California.
“Fire fighting conditions are expected to be extremely volatile,” said Maj. James Smolucha, operations officer, MCMWTC. “We're experiencing very low humidity, temperatures in the 90s, and strong winds out of the North that could push that fire to the South. The next 24 to 96 are going to be really decisive in this fire.”
Interagency firefighters have been working tirelessly over the past five days to prevent the fire from burning training areas essential to the Marine Corps’ Service Level Training Exercise. Despite best efforts, the fire has been reclassified as a type 2 fire, bringing in a higher echelon of fire agencies.
“Logistically we've offered up Marines to go out and form working parties, pass out chow, and move equipment,” Smolucha said.
The current goal for the fire agencies is to prevent the fire from reaching Grass Meadows and Summit Meadows, both essential SLTE training areas. MCMWTC has supported efforts to combat the fire offering use of its airstrip, providing guides and subject matter experts across the training area, and sharing logistical elements where applicable.
"Anything you need from the Marines the answer is yes; food, logistics, transportation, if you need to get on the base, we'll get you to where you need," said Wittnam to firefighters during a brief at Antelope Valley Fire Department, Sept. 2, near the Training Center.
The fire quickly threatened the Training Center’s military housing facility North of the base reaching the ridgeline above base housing, Aug. 30, before being halted by firefighters using aircraft.
The threat to the housing facility, located in Coleville, California diminished 48 hours after the fire began and approximately 45 Marines, sailors, DoD employees and dependents executed a voluntary evacuation.
MCMWTC was activated Aug. 31,1951 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton as Cold Weather Training Battalion, and has undergone several name changes and designations before falling under Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command where it remains.
MCMWTC’s main exercise, Mountain Exercise, was designed for training units to increase proficiency in high altitude, cold weather and mountainous operations and its austere terrain located in the Sierra-Nevada Mountain Range offers a prime location for the training.
“To the firefighters out there thank you for the support to us and protecting the installation here,” said Smoucha. “You're really going out of your way to contain this fire and we really can't thank you enough.”