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Photo of the Mountain Fire from the viewpoint of Coleville Military Housing. Photo courtesy of LT Brian Masneri, Public Works Officer for MCMWTC.

Photo by Curtis Hill

MCMWTC Responds to Simultaneous Significant Events

14 Dec 2020 | Curtis Hill Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, CA – On Tuesday, November 17, 2020, the staff of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MCMWTC) responded to an extremely dangerous situation where both the base camp and partner housing area lost utility power during a combined extreme weather and natural disaster event.

It began at 9:10 a.m. when notification of a possible public safety power shut down was delivered by Southern California Edison (SCE) to MCMWTC due to high winds. Approximately five minutes later, the MCMWTC lost power.

The base camp transitioned to island mode via its backup generator picking up the load within 15 seconds and the installation was able to continue with normal operations during the entirety of the 36-hour disruption and was able to successfully transition back to utility power at the completion of the outage.

However to further complicate matters, at 2:50 p.m. the same day, a fast moving wild fire was reported in the vicinity of Walker and Coleville. Coleville is the partner housing area for MCMWTC.

Fanned by 70-plus mph winds, this unusually catastrophic fire spread quickly and consumed more than 20,000 acres in 12 hours.
Coleville housing residents were given instructions to prepare to evacuate; however, an evacuation order was not issued due to the wind direction and fire suppression from the evening’s snow fall combined with 20 degree temperatures. Full containment of the fire was achieved several days later as the wild fire crews successfully cut line and extinguished spot fires.

The devastating and tragic result of the fire was two residents of Walker lost their lives and 80 structures were lost. Fortunately, there were no injuries to MCMWTC personnel and no MCMWTC structures were lost. The impact to the MCMWTC team was the loss of 11 homes that included Marines, government service employees, and their families and power was out to the Coleville housing area and town of Walker for 48 hours.

There were several instances of MCMWTC personnel going above and beyond in an effort to help local residents which is indicative of MCMWTC’s commitment to its surrounding community. Those personnel have been identified and are being recognized and thanked by the commanding officer and local community residents.

In spite of a 36-hour loss of power from the local utility, the installation demonstrated significant energy resilience throughout the ordeal. “From an energy perspective, the base was without power for only 15 seconds as the island mode worked great allowing all on-base personnel to continue with their mission,” said Andrew Oddo, the installation facility director.

This event resulted in MCMWTC’s most dangerous scenario where a utility power loss is exacerbated by both extreme weather and a natural disaster event at the Base Camp and Coleville housing. The Facilities Maintenance Department responded in an exemplary manner to maintain power at some level for both the base camp and the housing area although separated by a distance of 25 miles. Coleville’s Commissary and Marine Corps Exchange, as well as the Waste Water Treatment Plant, were provided with backup power systems to ensure the housing residents were able to sustain themselves with basic necessities during this lengthy power outage.

Coleville housing’s 48-hour power outage highlights the need for the backup power solution currently included within the fiscal year 2023 Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program (ERCIP) project named P-481. The residents at Coleville housing were forced to endure wildfire, smoke, evacuation preparation, 20 degree temperatures, and snow during those 48 hours and the completion of P-481 will bring their energy resilience level on par with the current situation at the base camp.

According to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment website, ERCIP is a subset of the Defense-Wide Military Construction Program specifically intended to fund projects that improve energy resilience, contribute to mission assurance, save energy, and reduce the Department of Defense’s energy costs.

The Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center at Bridgeport is the Marine Corps’ premiere training location for both summer and winter mountain warfare training where U.S. military and allied train in technical climbing, military mountaineering, snow mobility, field craft, survival, navigation, casualty evacuation, use of pack animals and high angle marksmanship.


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