Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Camp Pendleton Assists in Battle to Save Catalina

A couple of our moms have sons currently at Camp Pendleton.

Flames ravage Catalina Island May 10, surrounding Avalon, the island's main city.

Camp Pendleton assists in battle to save Catalina
May 10, 2007; Submitted on: 05/23/2007 03:07:35 PM ; Story ID#: 200752315735

By Lance Cpl. Ryan L. Tomlinson, MCB Camp Pendleton

Catalina Island, Calif. (May 10, 2007) -- A wildfire of unknown origins broke out here May 10, leading firefighters, service members and volunteers to respond within five hours of the initial blaze.

Firefighters from Avalon, Calif. and around Southern California joined forces to save a city from the wrath of a wildfire.

The fire engines and equipment were delivered via Landing Craft, Air Cushion driven by Assault Craft Unit 5 stationed at Camp Pendleton.

An LCAC is a high-speed, over-the-beach fully amphibious landing craft capable of carrying a 60-75 ton load.

“The island hasn't endured a fire of this magnitude since 1915,” said Dave Long, a firefighter with the Avalon Fire Department.

“That year most of the city burned down, but this year that is not going to happen with us,” Long said.

The fire started around 12:30 p.m. from the top of the mountain, working its way down to the city and destroying everything in its path.

The polluted air was so thick it forced most residents to wear surgical masks to keep them from inhaling the hazardous materials.

The fire department immediately evacuated the highest area of the town, leading to more than 2,000 residents and visitors running to Long Beach ferries for safety.

Firefighters from Avalon combated the inferno solo before reinforcement fire units arrived.

Once reinforcements arrived, the firefighters saved most of the island’s structures including the school and city hall, and only lost six business establishments and one residence. One injury was reported.

“I thought the Avalon Fire Department, the Navy, Coast Guard and all of the volunteers did a very good job to save lives and save the city,” said Angela Agpawa, a frequent visitor to the island.

“The first thing I thought when I saw them come is that we are saved,” Agpawa said.

She added she would like to thank all who participated in the relief of the wildfire.

The fire caused more than $2 million in property damage and destroyed 4,500 acres by the end of the weekend.

As of Monday morning, the fire was close to 80 percent contained.

“We are very fortunate to have had great firefighters and service members working to save the city from the fire,” said Capt. Richard Hernandez, a firefighter with the Avalon Fire Department and a native of the island.

“It was an honor protecting the area I grew up in and saving places such as the school. That place is for our future neighbors, doctors and even service members,” Hernandez said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

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