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Vandenberg Airmen fight fire in Santa Barbara

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Marissa Halbeisen, a firefighter with Vandenberg Air Force Base 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, sprays the ground with fire retardant to prevent it from reigniting.  The VAFB firefighters support the local community by helping fight the Santa Barbara wildland fires.  Team V firefighters are the only firefighters in the Air Force trained for wildland fires.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Lee)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Marissa Halbeisen, a firefighter with Vandenberg Air Force Base 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, sprays the ground with fire retardant to prevent it from reigniting. The VAFB firefighters support the local community by helping fight the Santa Barbara wildland fires. Team V firefighters are the only firefighters in the Air Force trained for wildland fires. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Lee)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Staff Sgts. Jeremy Camacho and James Betts, and Marissa Halbeisen, firefighters with the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, help  extinguish a small brush fire. Team V firefighters are the only firefighters in the Air Force trained for wildland fires.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Satran)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Staff Sgts. Jeremy Camacho and James Betts, and Marissa Halbeisen, firefighters with the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, help extinguish a small brush fire. Team V firefighters are the only firefighters in the Air Force trained for wildland fires. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Satran)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Marissa Halbeisen, a firefighter with The 30th Civil Engineering Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, sprays the ground with fire retardant, to prevent it from reigniting.  Vandenberg firefighters support the local community by helping fight the Santa Barbara wildland fires.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Lee)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Marissa Halbeisen, a firefighter with The 30th Civil Engineering Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, sprays the ground with fire retardant, to prevent it from reigniting. Vandenberg firefighters support the local community by helping fight the Santa Barbara wildland fires. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Lee)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The 30th Civil Engineer Squadron's fire department deployed firefighters to assist in wildfire operations in the Santa Barbara area. 

The fire has threatened more than 250 structures, destroyed four and burned more than 9,700 acres since it began July 3. Approximately 55 percent of the fire has been contained. 

Arriving in Santa Barbara the day the fires began, the Team V fireman are doing everything they can to help the community. 

"When we got here the fire was moving dangerously close to the local houses," said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Camacho, a 30th CES firefighter. "A mandatory evacuation was ordered for people in neighborhoods that were in the fire's path. Some of the first work we did when we arrived was help citizens move to safety." 

Just as they would in a joint service environment, the men and women of the Vandenberg fire department worked closely with their civilian counterparts. 

"When you work with another crew it tests you, because you want to show them what you're made of," said Staff Sgt. James Betts, a 30th CES firefighter. "You start to develop a reputation around the state, and people start wanting to work with you." 

The camaraderie with the other fire departments on scene helped in their success of pushing the fire line away from the houses. Once that was complete, they began to attack the fire using means with which some people may not be familiar. 

"Every fire is different," Sergeant Camacho said. "This fire we are fighting with fire. It is spiraling and leaving gaps of fuel (unburned brush) in between blazes. We are burning up that fuel with controlled burns, so the fire can't continue to spread." 

Part of the fuel depletion operation is conducted by Vandenberg's own "Hot Shots." The deployed 20-person team is a special brand of firefighter that do not use water as part of their mission. Instead, they use shovels, axes and other tools to contain the fire by limiting its fuel. 

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by the affected communities. People stand outside the staging area waving and holding signs that simply say, "Thank you." But those families aren't the only ones proud of the firemen. 

"My two little girls enjoy listening to my fire stories when I return," Sergeant Camacho said. "My wife understands what I do, and she is very supportive. That makes it easier to keep going." 

Sergeant Camacho and his crew will help with the fire for a week, which is when the next Vandenberg team will make the trip to replace them. Vandenberg is committed to supporting this effort until the fire is out. 

The 30th CES fire department has trained in wildland fires since 1977. They have worked with many different crews across California in efforts to extinguish wildland fires.