Vandenberg fire recovery underway

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ian Dudley
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs

In the wake of the largest fire in VAFB history which damaged more than 12,500 acres on base, the wing has fully transitioned from response activities to recovery operations.

With the fire extinguished, the wing’s first priority has been to complete damage assessments of infrastructure, facilities, and range equipment in order to characterize the scope of the damage caused by the fires.

“Throughout the past two weeks the response time shown by all elements of the Civil Engineer Squadron has been phenomenal,” said Capt. Christopher Cashen, 30th CES chief of operations engineering. “As each fire sprang up, our teams were there to respond accordingly. As we tapered off into the recovery efforts all actions to fix the base have been concurrent with Col. Moss's intent for recovery operations. Our phased recovery approach allows us to respond by assessing and restoring infrastructure affected by the fires, in a deliberate and carefully orchestrated manner. As soon as the fire areas were deemed safe, our damage assessment teams were immediately dispatched. The initial combined recovery efforts allowed us to restore power and natural gas to nearly every facility on North Base the day after the fires in the cantonment areas. South Base recovery is a much larger scale operation, but initial infrastructure and facility assessments are near completion.”

Although not all damage has been evaluated, some of the restoration is already well under way. The same fire dozer teams that spent 5,000 combined man hours combatting the multiple wildfires continue working, helping with fire rehabilitation and erosion control.

“During the Canyon Fire, 30th CES heavy equipment operators, also known as the wildland fire dozer teams, were one of the first resources in, and will be the last resource to leave the incident,” said Raymond Boothe, 30th CES heavy equipment supervisor. “We are currently working hand in hand with the remaining Hot Shots and 30th CES cultural and natural resources group to ensure the best management practices are implemented. This will minimize erosion that can happen due to the amount of burned vegetation left behind. Currently the dozers are assigned to rehabilitation and recovery of the fire lines, which involves knocking down berms, pulling the brush back so they appear natural and placing water bars on steep slopes to minimize erosion before this year's wet weather season. With assistance from the U.S. Forest Service and others, we have made great progress on all identified areas of concern.” 

The 30th Space Communications Squadron is still validating more than 200 miles of copper and fiber cable crisscrossing the burned areas, which involves hiking into often mountainous terrain and visually checking the cables.

“Although we are still in phase one of our efforts, 30th SCS Cable Affairs and Out-side Plant shops have made notable progress in a short amount of time,” said Robert Bullock, 30th SCS project manager. “Given the size and scope of the area affected and critical mission systems supported, we reached out to the 85th Engineering & Installation Squadron out of Keesler AFB to assist our efforts, we are expecting their team on site in the coming days. Together with the 85th EIS, we are confident we will be able to continue to provide reliable voice, visual and data information services and technologies to our customers throughout the base for the duration of the recovery effort.”

With such a large amount of work to be accomplished additional help is required for timely completion of the projects facing the base.

“Despite being at the end of the Fiscal Year, our Service Contracts section was able award contracts rapidly with the 30th Contracting Squadron,” said Cashen. “This allowed us to expedite restoring commercial power to facilities still on generator support by cleaning electrical components and performing maintenance on our substations.”

Lt. Col. Alex Mignery, 30th CES operations flight commander, has been designated the Recovery Operations Chief, leading the base Recovery Working Group comprised of all necessary base agencies to develop the plan to get back to normal operations.

“The recovery process after a natural disaster of this magnitude is a long-term effort, and arguably the most difficult part,” said Mignery. “The support, much like the fire response, has been a well-coordinated team effort. Moving forward, to restore base mission capabilities, we plan to balance the near term launch capabilities with the long term infrastructure repairs we know are needed.”