MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
What was supposed to be an annual exercise for Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station New River and civilian officials, turned into a real situation when a fire erupted near Stone Bay on Highway U.S. 17 instead re-directed emergency officials to prevent a near catastrophe.
Operation Urgent Response, a full-scale mass casualty exercise, went on as scheduled at MCAS New River. Camp Lejeune officials, instead, spent the day and those following working to contain a fire that threatened to destroy key areas on base and those communities surrounding it.
The fire, currently under investigation, originated on March 19 at SR-8 range in the Greater Sandy Run training area and over a two-week time period. The fire prompted authorities to close roads, schools and evacuate people from their homes. So far, the fire is estimated to have burned 9,545 acres.
The fire is currently 100 percent contained, and with weekend rains having suppressed most of the fire, full containment is expected in a few days.
Due to a Federal Aviation Administration requirement, MCAS New River held its portion of the Operation Urgent Response in preparation for their upcoming air show. The operation, which involved Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting, New Hanover Regional Medical Center and Onslow County Emergency Operations Center had personnel extinguishing a downed Osprey, extracting and treating dummies simulated as wounded Marines, some of which were covered with hydraulic fluid and fuel.
The MCB Camp Lejeune Fire Department was scheduled to take part in the exercise with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear unit to respond to a “suspicious package,” with the possibility of contamination.
“(Operation Urgent Response) gives us the ability that if something happens that overwhelms the fire fighters and all other mutual support they can tap into us for assistance,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Steven Dancer, the CBRN defense officer.
The fire, however, forced the firefighters to move on to the more pressing situation.
After a few days of battling the flames, command was given over to the North Carolina Forestry Service during a press conference with Col. Daniel Lecce, MCB Camp Lejeune commanding officer.
“As Marines we’re good at combat, but not so good with fires of this magnitude,” said Lecce. “I’m grateful for everyone that is helping us with this situation and we’re doing everything we can to support them.”
With rain over the weekend and 75 North Carolina Forest Service firefighters and fire managers, 20 Camp Lejeune fire and emergency personnel and the Onslow County Emergency Operations Center, the fire is expected to die out throughout the week.
“The upside to this entire situation was that our crews suffered no injuries and we had no significant damage to property except for one of our bull dozers and a couple of wood frame structures associated with the range,” said Nat Fahy, spokesperson for Marine Corps Installations – East. “Wildfire and related destruction aside, this situation was well-timed from an operational standpoint. While Exercise Urgent Response would have been a challenge, even the best laid exercises never come close to real world complexities when you’re forced to bring external organizations into the mix. What better way to be able to test our command control and coordination procedures than in a live situation?”