Bridgeport, Calif. -- Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California (Dec. 23, 2020) - Six U.S. Marines from Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, Calif., saved the lives of dozens of families from a fire in Walker, California, Nov. 17, 2020.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Proffitt, Sgt. Nathan Pero, Sgt. Joshua Sanchez, Sgt. Ryder Thomas, Sgt. Ian Thompson and Cpl. Cooper Walker were on their way to get groceries from a local store when they noticed flames from the “Mountain View Fire” rising above Mountain View Barbeque.
They quickly jumped into action helping the community anyway they could: banging on doors of homes, helping families gather valuables and grabbing shovels to put out spot fires. They also helped facilitate a safe evacuation for the local population.
“We came around the corner of Walker Pass and saw flames above Mountain View Barbeque, at first I thought it was a control burn and some of the others thought it was snowing because of the ash falling,” said Sgt. Thomas, a mountain warfare instructor. “That's when we noticed the down power line that had started the fire, and the extent of the fire itself.”
As the Marines went to help, they also called their friends from the town to let them know what was going on in Walker. Sanchez said as they arrived there was no one on the scene except for someone getting out of their car and putting on firefighter gear.
“A fire truck showed up so we decided to stay and help them as much as possible and grabbed shovels to put out spot fires where we could,” said Sanchez, a mountain warfare instructor.
While some Marines stayed and assisted the first responders with the fires, two others began evacuating other houses down the road.
“We had separated into groups, Sgt. Thomas and myself got into his vehicle and drove to the Eastside Lane and down that road going house to house making sure everyone knew there was a fire and that it was approaching quickly,” said Thompson, a mountain communication instructor.
Though the fires are out now, the Marines of Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center and their spouses are still doing their part to help the community. The Marines are helping to rebuild Walker.
“It's not only just a partnership with them, we are a whole community,” said Moore. “It's amazing to see the spouses volunteering and helping hand out food to the people and families that were affected by the fire.”
“Even after the fire, there are still multiple volunteers helping at the emergency operation center that's located down in Walker right now,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Proffitt, the future operations officer at MCMWTC. “These gentlemen have been helping and volunteering down there these past two days just organizing clothes and helping any way they can.”
In the recent months building up to Nov. 17, 2020, the Bridgeport, California area has battled fires such as the “Pearl Hill Fires” and “Cold Springs Fire” that combined burned 337,000 acres, according to the incident management teams overseeing the fires. Most recently the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center has played a part in helping fight the “Slink Fire” that burned over 26,000 acres as of Oct. 22, 2020.
The training areas affected by the Slink Fire are used for multiple mountaineering and cold weather warfare focused courses for Marines, sailors and other U.S. and partner nation service members.
The primary exercise conducted on the MWTC is Mountain Exercise, a part of a larger exercise facilitated by Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command out of Twentynine Palms, California called Service Level Training Exercise.
The exercise includes multiple events including Integrated Training Exercise - and the newest addition - Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force Warfighting Exercise. MWX is a modernized, force-on-force event that utilizes the vast Mojave Desert training grounds at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California.
“The Staff Non-Commissioned Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers ran toward the flames to help the local citizens of Walker, California,” said Col. Daniel J. Wittnam the commanding officer of Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center. “These Marines were driving through the town of Walker during an extreme weather event and arrived moments after the electrical line malfunctioned starting a blaze that began burning through the sage brush, shrubs, trees and structures.”
“They leaped from their vehicles on Highway 395 and began maneuvering around the flames, knocking on doors, windows and aiding many of the families of Walker to grab their pets and essentials and led them away from the wall of fire,” he said.