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Military personnel, assets help to battle California fires

Air Force Reserve Command and Air National Guard aircrews flying C-130 Hercules aircraft, similar to this one, equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems, or MAFFS, are deploying to California to fight wildfires. The aircraft can drop up to 3000 gallons of retardant covering an area one-quarter of a mile long and 60 feet wide. (File photo)

Air Force Reserve Command and Air National Guard aircrews flying C-130 Hercules aircraft, similar to this one, equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems, or MAFFS, are deploying to California to fight wildfires. The aircraft can drop up to 3000 gallons of retardant covering an area one-quarter of a mile long and 60 feet wide. (File photo)

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Military personnel and assets are helping out in the most serious outbreak of wildfires in California in years.

California National Guard and California-based active duty personnel are providing some of the muscle needed to contain the fires, which have driven more than 300,000 people from their homes in 12 counties.

Officials at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, are working with representatives from U.S. Northern Command to coordinate requests for Defense Department personnel and assets. Northern Command officials also have people working in Southern California directly with local authorities.

With 11 fires burning out of control from Los Angeles to the Mexican border, some Defense installations are themselves in danger from the wildfires. Camp Pendleton, the San Diego Marine Recruit Depot and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station are among the installations asking only essential personnel to come in.

A total of 17,031 California National Guardsmen are available for employment if the situation calls for it, said officials at U.S. Northern Command. Some 33 active duty, 79 Defense civilian personnel and 1,500 California National Guardsmen are actively engaged or directly supporting firefighting response, security and relief operations.

Another 550 Marines from Camp Pendleton have volunteered to help local authorities fight the fires in San Diego County.

California authorities have requested and the Defense Department has sent significant firefighting assets to the area. Helicopters are the most effective airborne asset, as the Santa Ana winds, which are driving the fire, make flying fixed-wing aircraft dangerous. California Guardsmen are flying a CH-47 and five UH-60 helicopters in the effort.

Navy pilots are flying two MH-60 aircraft in support of local firefighting efforts. The Marines have a CH-46 and three CH-53 helicopters on standby at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, and one additional helicopter on standby at Camp Pendleton. All of the choppers can drop water using buckets.

NIFC officials have requested six C-130 Hercules aircraft fitted with modular air firefighting systems, or MAFFS.

Today, Air National Guard officials are deploying four of these aircraft to Naval Air Station Point Mugu, Calif. In addition, two C-130s from the Wyoming Air National Guard's 153rd Airlift Wing and two from the North Carolina Air National Guard's 145th Airlift Wing are on alert.

Two C-130s from the Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., also will arrive at Point Mugu today.

On the ground, Marine Corps and Navy officials have deployed six fire trucks each to support local fire fighting efforts. Navy officials also have provided a brush truck. All these moves are under mutual aid agreements signed with local authorities.

San Diego is a huge Navy town, and an Aegis cruiser, a guided-missile destroyer and two fast frigates will remain in port to support evacuation and movement of family members if necessary.

Officials also have set up the Naval Base San Diego gymnasium as an evacuation center, with room for about 500 people. Sailors also are setting up a 500-person tent city at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, and space for 442 persons is being prepared at Naval Air Station El Centro.

Commanders have issued orders that all sailors ashore in barracks will move aboard ships to provide room for evacuees. Navy officials also are providing 500 cots for a shelter at Qualcomm Stadium, home of the National Football League's San Diego Chargers.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials have asked the Defense Department to identify a military installation in Southern California to be the forward staging area for supplies flowing south from the FEMA logistics center at Moffitt Field, Calif.

California National Guard troops are doing heavy lifting in the effort. The 40th Special Troops Battalion, 40th Brigade Support Battalion and a military police battalion headquarters are providing command and control and logistics support at the Qualcomm Stadium shelter.

The 40th Infantry Brigade Combat Team has alerted two 500-person rapid reaction battalions and two 100-person quick reaction companies. About 100 National Guard medical personnel are augmenting the staff at the San Diego Veterans Center, which is experiencing critical staffing shortfalls resulting from voluntary and mandatory evacuation.