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Vandenberg firefighters extend helping hand

Tim Murdoch observes the base camp Oct. 25 at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Mr. Murdoch, an engineer from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., has been assigned to the base camp as the camp manager. Vandenberg AFB currently has 12 firefighters dispatched throughout Southern California in support of more than 26 fires that have burned more than 1,800 homes and 550,000 acres. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

Tim Murdoch observes the base camp Oct. 25 at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Mr. Murdoch, an engineer from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., has been assigned to the base camp as the camp manager. Vandenberg AFB currently has 12 firefighters dispatched throughout Southern California in support of more than 26 fires that have burned more than 1,800 homes and 550,000 acres. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Vanessa Valentine)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- In a whirlwind of smoke, flame and ash, Vandenberg firefighters answered the call to help tame wildfires in Southern California as more than 26 fires burned more than 1,800 homes and 550,000 acres in late October.

The base currently has 12 firefighters in Camp Pendleton, Lake Arrowhead, Lancaster and Castaic Lake, and have had as many as 30 just recently return after extinguishing the Sedgwick Fire in Santa Barbara County.

"We have accumulated more than 40,000 man-hours in the last year in an effort to assist the local community in some pretty serious wildfires," said Devin Misiewicz, a Vandenberg AFB fire inspector. "We had a huge part to play in the Zaca fire earlier this year, with more than 30,000 man-hours spent fighting what was the second largest fire in California's history. More than 240,000 acres were burned in that fire."

And while Vandenberg AFB may not currently have as many firefighters out as they have had on previous fires, the ones they do have out are in key positions.

Tim Murdoch, an engineer with the department, was sent to Camp Pendleton in support of the Rice fire in Fallbrook as the base camp manager.

"My job here is to ensure that the firefighters supporting this fire have a place to come back and relax after working for 24 to 48 hours straight," Mr. Murdoch said, himself going on 36 hours without sleep. "Within 48 hours of putting in a call, this place ends up looking like a small city."

The town of Fallbrook had been completely evacuated and stores all around town had signs that read, "Closed for fire!"

"We have to make sure we have everything that is needed here because there isn't anywhere to go in town to get what we need," Mr. Murdoch said.

Other pieces of Vandenberg AFB's arsenal of fire weapons were sent to Coronado Island in San Diego and Castaic Lake near Palmdale. John Markley was sent to perform helicopter management duties at Coronado Island and is currently providing aerial support in the San Diego area.

Carolina Milan was sent to the Castaic Lake area as a dispatch manager for more than 3,000 firefighters.

"We have a team of four to six personnel that ensure we have firefighters and equipment in places that need it most," she said.

The group that has been dispatched is diverse in their training and can do a variety of details when the need arises.

"Vandenberg has a very good training record with the National Forrest Service," Ms. Milan said. "We can do a variety of duties in each fire. I am doing dispatch for this fire, but I may be doing training or helicopter support on the next one."

The base has also dispatched a four-person crew to Lake Arrowhead and another four people to Camp Pendleton.

Firefighters from the base have been eager to head out the door to do their part; however, conditions at the base are perfect for a devastating fire here as well.

"We were issued our first red flag in the history of Vandenberg," Mr. Misiewicz said. "We have to have the resources available if something kicks off here.