Camp Pendleton Marines Fight Wildfire Burning Explosives Range

October 10, 2008

A wildfire burned more than 1,000 acres on a Marine Corps range used to train Marines in explosives disposal, forcing firefighters to work late into the night as flames continued to spread across the massive base.

No structures were threatened, but Camp Pendleton’s golf course was evacuated as a precaution, fire and military officials said.

Billowing smoke could be seen about 25 miles away from the base, as far as San Juan Capistrano to the north and Solana Beach to the south.

“Crews are optimistic, but keeping in mind the dry weather conditions, there are no guarantees,” said Capt. Nick Schuler, a spokesman for the state Department of Forestry and Fire. “We expect continued hot and dry weather but no wind until Sunday evening. Hopefully this will be out by then.”

Gentle winds pushed the fire northeast through dry brush on the base’s southern end, near Oceanside, where drivers on Interstate 5 slowed to watch as the blaze cast an eerie, orange glow on the sky.

Marine Maj. Kristen Lasica said early on there was no measurable containment of the fire but firefighters made good progress on firelines.

Marine officials said they did not know the cause of the fire or whether training was going on at the range when the blaze began. Lasica said it was not immediately clear if explosives remained in the training field.

She said the base has fuel breaks around the training ranges because of the risk of fire from the range or other sources.

“Camp Pendleton is very proactive,” she said.

Last October, more than 21,000 acres burned in remote areas of the base. No structures were damaged.

Schuler said the latest fire could grow under windy conditions because there is dry brush throughout the base. Nine civilian aircraft from the San Diego Fire Department and San Diego County dropped water before night fell, Schuler said.

Ten Marine brush truck teams, similar to engine companies, were being aided by 20 fire engines from county fire agencies and state and federal forestry departments, with a combined 180 personnel fighting the fire.

Power was shut off in some areas of the base to allow firefighters to burn firelines, said Marine Cpl. Priscilla Vitale, a base spokeswoman.

Camp Pendleton, one of the largest bases in the country, takes up 125,000 acres in northern San Diego County. It is home to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The Marine Corps established the base in 1942.

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