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Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

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Pendleton Marines help evacuate families, rescue animals during DeLuz fire

By Courtesy Story | Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | November 13, 2020


When a fire ignited on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Sept. 30, threatening homes and a daycare center, a handful of Marines leapt into action to see if they could help their neighbors.

U.S. Marine Cpl. Colton Lahr, an engineer equipment mechanic with 1st Transportation Support Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group, was in his barracks room when the power went out. He joined a large group of Marines outside, and that’s when he noticed fire and smoke in the distance

He realized the fire was getting close to the Deluz Child Development Center and got concerned. Lahr enlisted the help of Lance Cpl. Jonathan Stevens, Lance Cpl. Mackenzie Langaker and Cpl. Benjamin Wisneski, all heavy equipment operators with 1st TSB, to come with him to help the families in the area.

“When we got near the CDC, we were told that the building was already evacuated,” said Wisneski, a native of Duluth, Minnesota. “We were happy to hear that they got them out so fast. Then we decided to go start knocking on doors, because we could see that between fighting the fire, the police officers and the fire department didn’t have enough people to help everyone.”

“The firefighters did the best they could to evacuate the houses that were in the most immediate dange,r so we did everything we could to supplement their efforts,” stated Langaker, a native of Queen Creek, Arizona.

As they went along, the Marines ran into Gunnery Sgt. Candido DeLeon Jr., the utilities chief with 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group.

DeLeon was home for lunch when the fire broke out. Because they have an evacuation plan that includes having emergency bags already packed, DeLeon and his wife were ready to go shortly after they received the evacuation notice. With his wife, two dogs and their bearded dragon quickly packed up and on the road, DeLeon decided to run over to South DeLuz Housing to see if he could assist in any way. That’s when he ran into the four other Marines who were already going door to door assisting people and saving pets that were alone.

“It was absolutely chaotic during the fire,” said Deleon. “The smoke was thick where we were. We literally went door to door, and sometimes had to crawl through small windows to get into houses.”

According to Stevens, the air smelled like a campfire, and after running to a couple of houses his lungs started to burn.

“During the event, I was just running on adrenaline, because I didn’t notice the smoke bothering my eyes until after the event,” added Langaker. “One of the things that I didn’t notice until we were done was that I was also entirely drenched in sweat.”

After all was said and done, the Marines helped over 20 families evacuate and rescued approximately a dozen animals, according to DeLeon.

“Seeing those selfless Marines out there helping others when they could’ve been in their barracks rooms safely in their beds feels good,” said Deleon, a native of Brooklyn, New York. “If it wasn’t for those Marines we wouldn’t have gotten out the animals that we did, and helped as many people as we did.”