San Diego, CA, USA — Sailors from Amphibious Craft Unit (ACU) 5 from Camp Pendleton, Calif., assisted firefighters from Los Angeles County in battling a massive wildfire on Catalina Island.
During the evening of July 22, two simultaneous lightning strikes ignited the blaze that ravaged nearly 1,200 acres of the 76 square-mile island before being extinguished early Tuesdaymorning.
“It was evident immediately that the fire was larger than we could have handled with our resources on the island alone,” said Los Angeles County Fire Department Captain Steve Ramey. “This is the largest fire we have seen in years, and the Navy provided us a great service by transporting equipment and personnel from the mainland, enabling us to control the fire.”
Catalina Island is located approximately 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles and 45 miles northwest of Camp Pendleton. It is populated by only several thousand permanent residents, but hosts over one million guestsannually.
ACU 5 worked 24 hours a day for nearly five days using Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC) boats to bring 350 additional firefighters from Orange County and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, several fire engines and support vehicles to help extinguish the fire.
“We have had some very long and difficult days,” said Gas Turbine System Technician (Electrical) 3rd Class Monteris Dean. “There has been almost no time to rest, but they have a big problem on that island, and we are a part of thesolution.”
Before being contained, the fire threatened to burn the historic Wrigley Horse Ranch and the Empire Landing Yacht Club.
“We knew that the fire would spread quickly due to the dry conditions and the nature of the blaze,” said Richard Warner, fire engineer and full-time resident of the island. “Had it not been for the timely response by the Navy, millions of dollars in property could have been damaged, and there may have been some humancasualties.”
The island relied only on the 16 volunteer firefighters of Station 55 that live on Catalina Island when they had to fight previous fires.
“Our ability to accomplish just about anything when we are called to do so is why we are the world’s greatest Navy,” said Quarter Master 1st Class Aaron Nicholas. “I am proud of our work here and the work of the firefighters on the ground extinguishing the threat to the island posed by this massive wildfire.”