Navy firefighters help Italians battle blazes

Navy firefighters help Italians battle blazes

10 August 2007

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Naples, Italy — With parts of southern Italy ablaze in this unseasonably warm and dry summer, over-extended Italian fire officials here increasingly have relied on the help of U.S. Navy firefighters from the bases of Capodichino and Gricignano.

A civilian fire crew from the Navy base at Capodichino responded Wednesday to help Pozzuoli firefighters put out hillside blazes near the U.S. Navy Carney Park recreational facility, according to Rod Van Deusen, fire chief of Naval Support Activity Naples. The park is in an extinct volcanic crater, ringed by the hills.

Base firefighters set up — and continuously refilled — a roughly 1,500-gallon collapsible above-ground pool, assembled in the golf course parking lot, he said.

The pool let an Italian firefighting helicopter resupply its Bandi bucket, or water bucket, closer to the scene, instead of wasting precious time flying to and from either the Bay of Pozzuoli or nearby Lago D’Averno, Van Deusen said.

The impromptu water source — filled using the park’s internal fire hydrant system — allowed the helicopters to get the water to the fires in roughly three minutes. That’s half the time it would have taken to fly to and from the lake or bay.

Italian officials also used a Canadair CL-215 “Scooper” twin-engine fixed-wing aircraft to dump gallons of water on the brush fires, which burned on the outer side of the crater. The aircraft is designed to fly and deliver water at low speeds and in gusts often produced by forest fires. It got its water from the bay.

“The fires were on the outside of the crater, on the Pozzuoli side, and burning up the hill,” Van Deusen said. “Had they crested the ridgeline, they would have come down the hill into Carney Park, so it was in our interest to contain and extinguish the blazes.”

Had the fires burned out of control and into the park, an MWR recreational building and storage shack and the camping cabins might have burned, he said.

Firefighters fought the fires from the air only. The cause of the blazes, which burned between 200 acres and 300 acres, is unknown. It took firefighters nearly five hours to put them out.

Throughout Italy on Wednesday, forest service officials received 3,000 emergency calls, many for brush fires that threatened to burn out of control, according to Italian news accounts.

This unseasonably warm and dry summer has sparked blazes throughout Italy, especially in the south, with some resulting in fatalities. Sources have included illegal burning of fields and land to clear brush, accidentally discarded cigarettes, or poorly managed barbecuesites.

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