APRIL 24, 2020 – While mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is the now primary focus of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton leadership and the rest of the world, there are still service members and civilians on base performing tasks essential to Pendleton’s status as the premier Fleet Marine Force training base on the West Coast.
As the weather starts to heat up, Camp Pendleton and Southern California must prepare for the dry summer months and the threat of wildfires that come along with them.
“We have fire breaks surrounding every housing area of the base. Our strategy is cutting them early enough to reduce any hazards.”
Assistant Chief Jeff Cunliffe-Owen, the wildland coordinator for the Camp Pendleton Fire Department
The Camp Pendleton Fire Department prepares for the fires each year by teaming with agencies from the surrounding communities. Mutual aid agreements with local departments allow various organizations to work together during fires, taking care of the local communities who will then help take care of Camp Pendleton. Firefighters with CPFD will also perform prescribed burns and cut roughly 200 acres of firebreaks. In 2016, the Camp Pendleton fire department was named the Department of Defense fire department of the year, and was responsible for more than 3,700 emergency responses.
The base fire department has a large focus on training for effective employment of fire and emergency services, and educating all installation personnel. They maintain firebreaks and execute prescribed burns, as well as conduct fire inspections for the buildings on base. The department works with the installation commander and area commanders to establish programs to educate and train service members on fire safety awareness.
“We meet with the commanders and plan evacuation routes and emergency plans every year,” added Cunliffe-Owen. “The best thing for a resident to do is to make sure their homes are clear of vegetation and don’t have objects stacked up against them.”
Of Camp Pendleton’s 125,000 acres, approximately 114,000 acres serve as training areas for the base. A large portion of that training area is designated strictly as impact zones for the live-fire training ranges Marines regularly conduct. Due to the constant live-fire training, fires on impact zones are common, and prescribed fires are conducted around those locations to mitigate the fires from leaving the impact areas.
“We don’t do prescription fires by any residential areas,” added Cunliffe-Owen. “We try to burn off annual grasses in areas such as ranges and places coming out of the impact to prevent fires from spreading.”
The men and women of the Camp Pendleton Fire Department completing their mission means the rest of the base can operate safely and accomplish their missions. With support from the base fire department, Marines can conduct the training they need without worrying about a fire escalating beyond the impact zone, and at the same time maintain the safety of the residents and the natural state of the installation.
Lance Cpl. Drake Nickels
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton