Bridgeport, Calif. -- Firefighters from Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center responded to the Slink Fire Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020.
The swift actions of the training center’s civilian firefighters prevented the fire from sweeping through base housing.
“They were the first ones on the scene to assess the fire,” said Col. Daniel Wittnam, commanding officer, MCMWTC. “Because of their skills and understanding of the terrain they were able to isolate the fire from coming over the ridge on top of the Colville housing.”
“The firefighters got positioned in and worked for approximately six days, using our brush trucks to protect critical infrastructure in Walker and in large part, saved all of the houses in Walker from Fire,” he said.
The morning of the Slink Fire, a group of Training Center firefighters responded to a smaller fire in the Grouse Meadows area of the Training Center, successfully extinguishing it.
Then they received another dispatch.
Erupting from a single lightning strike Southwest of Coleville, California, another fire was beginning to rage. The entire department was recalled, and engines were dispatched to the MCMWTC base housing just North of Colville. During this time approximately 45 Marines, Sailors, DoD employees and dependents executed a voluntary evacuation.
“Normally we have six firefighters on duty at the station; throughout the past five days we had 16 on without going home, and that was a very challenging piece of it due to the size of the station.” stated Firefighter Benjamin Paladino.
By 9:30 p.m., the Training Center fire department was integrated with firefighters from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and other fire departments. With two engines on site, one equipped for wildland fires and one for structure fires, the base firefighters began battling the inferno as it encroached on theTraining Center's military housing complex, north of base.
“We were on scene by twelve-thirty, and demobilized by twenty-one hundred the next day, so pretty much a 24 hour period was spent just fighting this thing,” said Engine Operator Mike Kidder, from the department.
“Since the fire first started, almost none of us have had a day off until we were demobilized.” Said Paladino.
By Aug. 31, the fire was on the housing facility’s doorsteps and was just behind MCMWTC personnel's homes. The interagency team averted every asset available toward the blaze. Airplanes dropped fire retardant and helicopters dumped water while ground crews tirelessly held the line. By the next morning the fire was pushed back from the complex and the loss of vital base housing and family care facilities diminished.
“Our job is to protect the lives and property of the Marine Corps, it’s as simple as that,” said Captain Eric Brock, with the MCMWTC Fire Department.
”This is all part of our job description, we were chosen because of the proximity to base housing, and the fire's ability to affect base housing,” said Kidder.
Currently MCMWTC and an interagency of firefighters are battling the fire to mitigate damage to the base’s training areas that are essential to Marine Corps Service Level Training.
Firefighting agencies involved include: the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and multiple municipal and volunteer departments from several states.
Resources are being pooled and shared across the board. MCMWTC has supported efforts to combat the fire offering use of its airstrip, providing guides and subject matter experts to access the base’s training area, and sharing use of logistical elements where applicable.