O’NEALS, CALIF. — A Port Deposit, Maryland, native and active duty Marine responded to the Creek Fire in the Sierra National Forest, the largest single fire in California’s recorded history, as part of an interagency wildland fire ground response operation organized by the National Interagency Fire Center Sept. 19, 2020.
At the request of NIFC and in support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, Lance Cpl. Joshua Taylor, 20, is part of approximately 250 Marines and Sailors from 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, assisting in the firefighting efforts.
“The locals are very supportive of everyone out here fighting fires,” said Taylor, a combat engineer. “Driving to and from camp, we see a lot of signs showing support for the work we are doing, and that’s a good reminder of the importance of this work.”
U.S. Army North (Fifth Army), U.S. Northern Command’s Joint Force Land Component Command, is overseeing the military ground operation, the second undertaken in the state during the month of September.
“During this unprecedented fire season we are honored to expand our support to the National Interagency Fire Center in their effort to help protect people, property and land in California,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, ARNORTH and JFLCC commander. “Just like the Soldiers supporting fire suppression efforts in Northern California, the Marines and Sailors who are assisting in this mission in Central California are trained and equipped with all of the necessary gear to keep them safe, to include in a COVID-19 environment.”
Marines and Sailors from the unit were fitted for personal protective equipment, including fire retardant clothing, boots, gloves and hard hats, and trained on fire terminology, fire behavior and fireline safety at Camp Pendleton, Sept. 17. They deployed to Central California, Sept. 19, to receive hands-on training in fire suppression methods and procedures, including Watch-Out Situations and Standard Firefighting Orders, prior to employment in the national forest.
“The fire fighters who trained us and work with us are good, hardworking people,” said Taylor. “They answer every and all questions we may have to ensure we understand and are safe.”
In Northern California, the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, assisted with wildland fire response efforts at the August Complex in the Mendocino National Forest.
Military engineers are assigned to the wildland fire efforts because of the inherent skills their military occupation specialties require of them. Engineers are often tasked with building roads through unimproved land by employing earth moving equipment and removing trees, underbrush and roots, which is very similar to building firelines through a forest.
“Camp Pendleton’s Marines have a long history supporting our state and federal Wild Land firefighting partners in Southern California. U.S. Marines are motivated, physically fit, and under the most arduous of conditions accomplish any mission assigned,” said U.S. Army Col. Luke Donohue, the Defense Coordinating Officer for Federal Emergency Management Region IX. “The 7th Engineer Support Battalion’s Task Force Charlie is the right unit at the right time delivering the needed firefighting capacity to this historic Fire. In partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, Task Force Charlie is protecting communities as well as our national resources.”
The Department of Defense has been a key wildland firefighting partner for decades, providing aircraft and personnel to serve as wildland firefighters. Since 1987, active duty military personnel have been mobilized to serve as wildland firefighters a total of 39 times.
The JFLCC, through USNORTHCOM, is the primary Department of Defense organization for coordinating defense support of civil authorities to help federal partners, like NIFC, respond to natural disasters.