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Team Travis expedites aircraft evacuation in midst of fire emergency

  • Published
  • By Lan Kim
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — As the LNU Lightning Complex Fire encroached on communities near Travis Air Force Base Aug. 19, units across the 60th and 349th Air Mobility Wings here, rallied to evacuate the base’s fleet of C-17 Globemaster III, C-5M Super Galaxy and KC-10 Extender aircraft to safeguard them against the impending danger of the fire. 

U.S Air Force Col. Corey Simmons, 60th AMW commander, issued the evacuation order shortly after 6 p.m., Aug. 19, and in a matter of hours, Travis’ Airmen launched the base’s fleet of aircraft to appointed-safe locations.  

“We were basically asking people to move a mountain,” said Chief Master Sgt. Erick Fierro, 60th Operations Group superintendent. “The reply simply was, ‘Ok, where would you like us to put it?’”

Fierro understood the monumental task at hand and had concerns leading up to the evacuation decision.

“What we were challenging our crews and our maintainers and our support functions to do was a feat where, let's be honest, we could have failed miserably,” Fierro said. “What could have been our worst moment in history ended up being a very defining moment for Travis AFB.”

The base temporarily moved its C-5Ms to Kelly Field at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas; its KC-10s to Fairchild AFB, Washington; and its C-17s to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Travis Airmen evacuated nearly 30 aircraft from the base.

The success of the aircraft evacuation was possible because of the collective determination of everyone involved, Fierro said. He felt like the Airmen were saying, “Put me in, coach.”

“I’m not just talking operations group,” said Fierro.

He expressed how important it was for support staff, maintainers and petroleum, oil and lubricants Airmen to come together to achieve such a tall order in a short period of time.

Additionally, base leaders continuously monitored state and local updates and emergency notifications on the LNU Lightning Complex Fire.

“Our leadership notified us early that morning that we might have to evacuate due to the fires,” said Senior Airman Bryan McFeron, 860th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-17 crew chief. “That morning, we went out and pre-flighted all the aircraft to ensure that they were ready to go. Later that evening, we had to evacuate all the aircraft at a moment’s notice.”

The flight line was buzzing with commotion when the order came down, McFeron said.

“Tensions were high that night. It was like organized chaos out on the flight line,” the crew chief said. “The main thing was everyone was safe. No one got hurt, and the aircraft got out of here safely.”

Airman 1st Class Joshua Engidaw, 60th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels distribution operator, noticed that commotion toward the end of his shift.

When the evacuation order came down, Engidaw said he knew he would have to extend his shift and aid with the evacuation efforts by remaining on the flight line to fuel aircraft.

“Our Airmen came together and really pushed the grind and got out there and did what was supposed to be done,” Engidaw said. “It was like clockwork, like a moving machine that was working perfectly together.”

Engidaw and McFeron, like other Airmen on the flight line that evening, worked late into the night to carry out the mission.

“We were monitoring the tower and ground frequencies (on the radio) up to the last second, ‘til those jets got off the ground,” said Fierro, who noted that the evacuating aircraft were gone by about 1 a.m. “In my 20-something years in the Air Force ... I don’t know that I’ve ever seen something like that,” Fierro said.

After the fire receded and base leadership felt it was safe for personnel and aircraft to return, Simmons lifted the evacuation order Aug. 21.

The fleet returned to Travis AFB between Aug. 22-23.