Camp Lejeune "firefighters" return from Idaho

30 Sep 2000 | SSgt. Jake Hill

The last of the Marines of 3d Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment returned victorious on Sept. 24 after 24 days of fire fighting in the Clear Creek Complex of fires about 12 miles west of Salmon, Idaho. Task Force Betio, led by LtCol Philip E. Smith was integral in increasing the containment percentage of the Clear Creek fire from 29 percent to 85 percent. Since Sept. 1, the Task Force had been given the challenging task of supporting the National Interagency Fire Center's (NIFC) suppression efforts on the Clear Creek Complex fires. This complex, comprised of Clear Creek, Marlin Springs, Full Circle and Sisters fires, affected over 266,000 acres and has been burning since July 10.After classroom training here on Aug. 31, the Marines flew to Idaho Falls for ground transportation to Salmon, Idaho. Within the first hour on the ground it began to rain "Our clouds have been on every deployment we've been on," said Cpl John Loveday early in the deployment. The Dandridge, Tenn., native and rifleman added he could personally attest to rain in Okinawa, Japan; Twenty-Nine Palms and Bridgeport, Calif.; and Norway. The downpour was the first rain much of the region had received since June.September 2 and 3, the newly minted fire fighters got to practice with and learn how to care for the tools of their new trade, the shovel, axe, McCloud (a kind of rake and hoe combination) and the Pulaski. The Pulaski, a double-edged axe was the most popular. Similar in appearance to the one lumberjacks have made famous, the second bit has been turned to resemble a hoe. It was invented by Forest Ranger Edward Pulaski, a hero who saved 40 of 45 fire fighters during the "Big Blowup of 1910" a fire which was one of the most devastating in American history. Over the next three weeks, the Task Force, broken down into 20-man fire teams and lead by Military Crew Advisors (MCADs) headed out into the creek-beds, mountain tops and huge forest expanses of the Salmon - Chalace National Forest in search of fire.About a third of the fire teams headed south to an area where a nearby fire, the Aparajo, joined the Clear Creek fire Aug. 30. This area was one of the hottest of the whole fire. Right to the end, spot fires erupted whenever the rain stopped and the humidity dropped below 20 percent.Another third of the Task Force was airlifted into the Marlin Springs Fire, north of the main Clear Creek fire and straddling the Idaho and Montana borders. Conditions were extremely rugged and it was cold enough to snow several times. These teams assisted a number of Hot Shot teams in completely containing this Northernmost blaze. The Hot Shot Teams, elite fire fighters who attack the fires on the ground would not have been able to route the flames alone.The remaining fire fighters were either sent to the North side of the Clear Creek fire to handle "smokes" and hot spots or assisted in the rehabilitation effort.During the fire's worst days, fire lines, clear areas of land where the trees and brush were removed to stop the fire, were cut with bulldozers and other heavy equipment. This necessary evil kept the fire from reaching a number of dwellings, the city of Salmon and an area where erosion could affect the town's drinking water. Unfortunately, this also can lead to erosion and other environmental problems. The Marines attached to the Task Force from Second Combat Engineer Battalion were trained with the chainsaw and sent to not only assist with the flush cutting of stumps and debris removal, but also cutingt the stumps and remaining logs into firewood which was donated to the areas needy.One of the highlights of the deployment was the mountaintop reenlistment of SSgt Edward Rodriguez of "D" Company, 2d AA Bn With the Continental Divide as the backdrop, Rodriguez took the oath of enlistment from Capt Daryl Crane, company Commander of Delta Company.The Marines began returning to Camp Lejeune on Sept. 19, one company a day until Sunday.Joel Kerley, a smoke jumper from Boise, Idaho and the Task Force Betio Military Liaison expected to be out with a 20-man team. Instead, he got a 560-man Task Force. He said he was impressed by the hard work and dedication of the Marines. "I have really enjoyed working with the Marines," said Kerley. "Each and every one of them should be proud of the job they've done. If I had another opportunity to, I'd would definitely work with them on another fire."