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Beale responds to wildfire with local community firefighters

  • Published
  • By Airman Preston Cherry
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs
Beale Air Force Base personnel from the 9th Civil Engineer Squadron assisted the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and other fire prevention organizations with fighting a wildfire near Clearlake Aug. 6.

The Rocky Fire started July 29, and became the largest of 19 active wildfires burning across the state, consuming nearly 70,000 acres, destroying 43 residences and involving more than 3,500 fire personnel.

Members of the 9th CES are a part of a 17 person strike force. The team is under a unified command structure comprised of five fire trucks from a variety of fire departments; all working under a strike team leader. Beale is in direct assistance with the Yuba-Sutter area, which includes fire departments from Linda, Wheatland, Pleasant Grove and Olivehurst.

"A strike team is a big factor in the California mutual aid system," said Kyle Heggstrom, the Linda Fire Protection District fire captain and strike team leader. "Without having five engines running we wouldn't be able to go, and luckily Beale was our fifth engine to join in. Without that engine this strike team wouldn't have been able to combat this fire."

Beale, along with the rest of the strike force, has been battling multiple California fires for nearly two weeks.

Will Hock, a 9th CES fire captain, said Beale AFB leadership has put a lot of trust into the fire department, because this is the first time they have worked as a strike team for the county. The experience gained is unmatched and cannot be recreated on base, and it's essential for the training of Beale AFB firefighters.

"This is my first time being out with a strike team," said Airman 1st Class Austin Kauffman, a 9th CES firefighter. "This is a unique experience to participate in a fire of this magnitude. It's something we don't get to see too often at Beale. It's been a learning experience to see how the fire reacts in the heavy tinder and brush, along with how the weather affects it."

Firefighters fought the flames directly, but equally important, included the prevention of fire expansion described as "mop-ups."

"Mop-ups are one of the most critical aspects of firefighting," Heggstrom said. "This is a time when we have to slow down our operation, get all of the hot spots on the edge of the fire and prevent it from expanding and causing larger fires."

With the fire nearing complete containment, Beale AFB firefighters and the other strike force members will be returning to their home stations soon.

"The strike team has become one big family," Heggstrom said. "We're fortunate to have assistance from Beale and it's a tremendous training opportunity for them. During 2015, California has endured a significant amount of wildfires; they are ranging from the northern area of the state to the south. I feel all crews have benefitted by participating in the mutual aid system. It's valuable for the state of California having Beale involved in the strike team."