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Carson City Bureau of Land Management firefighters watch as a P-2V Neptune drops retardant on the fire aboard Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., Aug. 18, 2008. The fire, started by lightning, burned 680 acres of land before it was contained.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Uriel De Luna-Felix

Wildfire continues to burn at MWTC Bridgeport

21 Aug 2008 | Jennie E. Haskamp

Lightning started a blaze that had burned 680 acres of land aboard the Marine Corps facility here in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest 20 miles northwest of Bridgeport, Calif., and still continues to burn.

More than 300 emergency crewmembers from several agencies, some traveling across state lines, responded to help fight the fire and made their base of operations here. Crews from the Great Basin Incident Management Team reported the blaze, which started burning Aug. 17. Four days later, the fire is 99 percent contained but still burns in some remote locations.

“The Forest Service committed serious air resources on Sunday and Monday,” said MWTC’s executive officer Lt. Col. Robb Etnyre, who calls Pickel Meadow, Calif., home.  “Without their immediate response, the fire would have done extensive damage.”

Etnyre also explained that fighting the blaze from the ground would have cost them a lot more land, resources and training time.

MWTC staff were impressed not only with the efficiency of the crews on the fire line but also the expediency they displayed in setting up the fire crew support structure.

“They rolled in and in a matter of hours had a whole support system in place,” said Capt. Bart Betik, MWTC air officer and an Ennis, Texas, native. “All we did was provide them somewhere to sleep, eat, and somewhere to shower, they brought everything else with them and went to work.”

John Houk, Great Basin Incident Management Team’s logistics section chief, said their team had a short fused timeline to be operational.

“If we wait 24 to 48 hours to set up camp, the fire gets too far ahead of us,” he explained.

He said much of their logistical support is regionally contracted, and the assets they received from the Marines at MWTC helped reduce the cost of fighting the fire.

In addition to providing shower facilities, heavy equipment and access to the onsite fuel farm, Houk said the barracks the training center provided were instrumental in the logistic efforts because a portion of the fire line crew was made up of inmate firefighters.

“California and Nevada have programs established to use inmates for workforce programs,” explained Houk.  “They’re organized crews, completely trained as fire fighters and they fight alongside our fire fighters.  The only difficulty is housing them apart from the rest of the crews.  The barracks the Marines provided us eased that burden.”

Robbie McAboy, the team’s public information officer, was in charge of keeping the community abreast of the fire’s progress. 

“We’re good at putting ourselves out of business,” she said after drafting a press release today stating the fire was expected to be fully contained by August 23. “The Marine Corps has been awesome to work with.  They made themselves completely available to us.”

No structures were lost in the fire, and the only documented injuries were a minor leg cut and a bee sting.

Etnyre said the overall aggressive approach to fighting the fire is a testament to the support the Mountain Warfare Training Center receives from the community and local agencies.

“Cheryl Probert’s immediate and aggressive commitment to putting out this fire tells me the Forest Service respects and understands what the Marines are doing here in Bridgeport,” said Etnyre. “It shows we’re more than just guests here.  We’re part of the community.”


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