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California Airmen provide communication support to wildfire evacuees

A Mobile Emergency Operations Center (MEOC) from the California Air National Guard's 163d Attack Wing at March Air Reserve Base, is set up at Napa Valley College in Napa, California, to provide communications support to victims of the Northern California fires Oct. 11, 2017.

A Mobile Emergency Operations Center from the California Air National Guard's 163rd Attack Wing at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., is set up at Napa Valley College in Napa, Calif., to provide communications support to victims of the Northern California fires Oct. 11, 2017. The MEOC provided wireless internet access and cell phone network for evacuees who took up shelter in the college gymnasium after a series of fires burned across California's wine country. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Hideyoshi Izumi)

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- Airmen from the California Air National Guard continue to provide cell phone and internet support to people who fled their homes last week as wildfires raged through California’s wine country.

The 163rd Attack Wing at March Air Reserve Base in Moreno Valley sent four Airmen and its Mobile Emergency Operations Center to Napa Valley College in Napa, Oct. 10, 2017, where an evacuation center was established Oct. 9, after the Tubbs Fire threatened homes in the Calistoga area.

The MEOC is a rapidly deployable Federal Emergency Management Agency Type 2 communications trailer that can provide customers with ground-to-ground and air-to-ground communications support. It also features a self-contained wireless network and satellite uplink capabilities.

With local cell phone towers down and internet access limited by the fires, many evacuees had no way to reach family members or get new information about the fires.

By early morning of Oct. 11, the MEOC and its staff of emergency management and communications Airmen established a wireless internet network and set up a tactical cell phone tower enabling evacuees to make phone calls and contact loved ones.

The MEOC team is also providing up to date fire maps and incident information along with full motion video being streamed into the trailer. More than 300 people have come into the MEOC seeking information.

“A lot of these people are wondering if their house is burned to the ground or not, and we’re giving those people relief,” said Staff Sgt. Tyler Crumpton, MEOC team leader and emergency manager.

“We were able to type in their address and see how close they were to the fire line,” said Staff Sgt. Hideyoshi Izumi, MEOC communications operator.

Izumi, who is working the overnight shift while the MEOC provides around-the-clock services to evacuees, said about 20 people stop by for updated information each night.

“People can’t sleep,” Izumi said. “They want to know if their home is gone.”

Sometimes the news isn’t good.

“These people are taking bad news like a champ. They’re told some pretty rough stuff,” Crumpton said. “I get the feeling they are hopeful and tough people.”

About 1,200 people from the Calistoga, Napa and Lake Berryessa communities have come through the shelter, American Red Cross officials said.

FEMA personnel and insurance representatives are also using the MEOC to access real time fire maps and data to further their work.

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