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Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

"The West Coast's Premier Expeditionary Training Base"

Marines continue to battle Idaho blazes

By Cpl. Matthew Shaw | | August 19, 2000

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So far, the fire has burned more than 156,000 acres at the Salmon National Forest and is currently 30 percent contained. 

When the Marines arrived in Idaho August 5, the fire was considered out of control, according to Aaron Gelobter, deputy incident commander.

"The Marines have made a big difference in our ability to control this fire," he said.  "They're deployed to the fireline as a hand crew.  They're actually scraping fire lines around the fire.  They're our front line defense."

Trucks operated by the Army National Guard transport Marines from camp to work sites, where there are three basic tactics used to control the spread of fire; fireline digging, back-burning and mopping up.

Marines use chain saws and four types of hand tools resembling axes, picks and shovels to remove fuel, such as timber, shrubbery and grass, from designated areas.  The Marines remove low limbs from trees and scrape the ground in a line to keep the fire from spreading.

After they build a fireline, back-burning may be necessary to keep the fire from spreading.  Back-burns are controlled fires between the fireline and the fire.  Marines watch the green side of the fireline during a back-burn in case embers cross the line and start spot fires.

If a spot fire begins, Marines quickly dig a line around the fire and put out the flames with dirt.  Back bladders, backpacks with water and spray nozzles, help cool down logs and hot spots.

Once the back-burn is complete, Marines mop-up by checking the area for hot spots, areas that could burst into flame given the right conditions.  Hot spots are usually identified by smoke coming from stumps, logs or the ground.  Marines use their back bladders to cool the spots and separate fuel to lessen the risk of flames.

Marines use these methods of fire control to steer the fire away from key locations such as Salmon's water shed and near-by towns.

"We haven't seen any more injuries here than we would on any normal operation," said Navy Lt. Anthony Leazzo, battalion surgeon.  "The Corpsmen here are doing a really good job taking care of routine tasks on the lines, preventing serious problems."

According to Leazzo, blisters have been the biggest problem.

"Most of it's just from the boots," he said.  "The Marines didn't get a good break-in period for their new boots."

Marines were issued ski boots for the operation to provide better support and heat resistance. 

Although Marines are not firefighters by trade, Col. William Callihan says the job is natural for them.

"The things we do here are the same type things you'd see in combat," he said.  The job requires good decision making, tenacity, aggressiveness and physical and mental toughness.

Task Force Wildfire is composed of four companies from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division and a composite company from 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division.

The companies are organized into 20-man crews, each with it's own civilian firefighting advisor.

The Marines are expected to return to Camp Pendleton during the first week of September.

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