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Flames devour nearly 6,000 acres

Pvt. Daniel Boothe, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

Photo from <b>www.nasa.gov</b> file


Wildfires ravaged nearly 6,000 acres over the last week requiring more than 670 firefighters on the ground and in the air to contain the flames aboard Camp Pendleton.

Brushfires which started at 3:30 p.m. Monday forced the evacuation of 2,000 people living in Serra Mesa and San Luis Rey military housing, said Fire Capt. Nick Schuler, spokesman for California’s Department of Forestry and Fire. The Juliett Fire, named by fire officials, was also responsible for the evacuation of more than 200 homes in Fallbrook and 1,240 in Oceanside.

Local residents south of Pendleton began to worry when fires stretched only a mile from the base’s border, said emergency dispatchers from North County after receiving numerous calls from concerned residents.

"Had we not had the 'super-scoopers' and other air assets, we would have lost a lot of homes of Marines and sailors," said Col. James B. Seaton III, commanding officer, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

Pendleton’s firefighters battled the blaze through the night alongside local fire and state forestry departments, said Schuler. Helicopter support flew in from San Diego’s Fire Department along with two air tankers to extinguish the flames.

Two CL-415 Super Scooper planes made their firefighting debut during Pendleton’s brushfires after San Diego County recently leased the new aircraft from Canada, said Greg Cox, San Diego County Supervisor. Each plane is equipped with a 1,600-gallon tank that can refill in seconds at any large water source.

Following a cooling trend last Thursday through Saturday, the dry offshore winds known as the Santa Ana winds kicked up in San Diego County on Sunday. The winds were expected to last through Monday, said Steve Vanderburg, meteorologist, National Weather Service.

The cause of the Juliett Fire is still unknown, but military personnel were not conducting any live fire training in the area when the flames were ignited, said Bill Gick, Public Information Officer, Fire and Emergency Services, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. No structures were damaged and no injuries have been reported.

Humidity at Camp Pendleton was at about 15 percent when the first fire started on the afternoon of Oct 8.

This first fire, or the November Fire, ignited Pendleton at 3:30 p.m. at Range 401, an explosive ordnance disposal area, in the southwest corner of the base, said Gick.

“The fire was burning out of control, aided by winds and moving west and northeast through dry brush toward Pendleton's golf course,” said Schuler. “The fire was not threatening any buildings on base, but the golf course was evacuated as a safety precaution.”

At 9 p.m. a second fire was reported just south of Serra Mesa military housing threatening residents, but was quickly extinguished, said Gick. Firefighters then announced a third fire beginning at 12:45 p.m. Thursday morning near Range 800, on the eastern portion of base at one of Pendleton’s highest elevations, he added.

Santa Ana winds are strong, dry offshore winds that sweep across Southern California every fall and are known for pushing wildfires throughout the region, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Wildfires, fueled by Santa Ana winds and low humidity, burned 400,000 acres in October 2007 and 700,000 acres in October 2003 throughout Southern California destroying thousands of homes and claiming 26 lives.

“It’s great to see the coordinated effort between Camp Pendleton Fire alongside local, state and federal agencies,” said Seaton. “The work being done here is a real credit to the leadership of the local communities and San Diego County in preparing for this fire season,” he added.

Fire warnings have already been issued for Los Angeles, Ventura, San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, according to the National Weather Service. Coastal areas are also on critical alert for low humidity and high Santa Ana winds.

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