Defense assists military members, civilians displaced by wildfires

The Defense Department has opened up bases and facilities to temporarily house military families forced out of their homes by the California wildfires and provide care for evacuees from the civilian population.

More than 225,000 Navy and Marine military and civilian personnel live in San Diego County and many of them have been forced out of their homes by the fires, which have burned more than 425,000 acres.

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, about 14 miles north of downtown San Diego, opened up its facilities to house any displaced military families, said 1st Lt. Jill Leyden, a public affairs officer for the base.

The Naval Medical Center San Diego has taken in 38 patients from civilian hospitals closed by the fire, according to Sonja Hanson, a spokeswoman for the facility. It also has converted its gym into a temporary shelter for 89 people, including 33 staff members and their families forced to evacuate from the civilian Pomerado Hospital in Escondido, 32 miles north of San Diego, Hanson said.

"People came here for help and we simply provided [it] for them," said Trevor Dallas-Orr, senior chief hospital corpsman at the medical facility.

In addition, the hospital plans to dispatch a medical team to Qualcomm Stadium -- temporary home to more than 10,000 people -- on Thursday.

Marines who had their own trial by fire in Iraq are helping in Defense's effort, Hanson added. Eleven Marine patients at the Navy hospital who had been wounded in Iraq have volunteered over the past two days to help out civilians at the stadium.

Meanwhile, Marines at Camp Pendleton, 38 miles north of San Diego, had to battle their own wildfires, which according to the installation's Web site had spread over 6,200 acres of the base as of Wednesday morning. Leyden said that two Miramar-based CH-54 helicopters equipped with water buckets have helped fight the Pendleton fires since Tuesday.

The Navy doubled the number of its helicopters equipped with water buckets to help civil authorities fight the fires to four from two, said Kevin Dixon, a spokesman for Navy Region Southwest. Dixon said the Navy has also deployed 10 firefighting trucks and 40 firefighters to battle fires in San Diego County, with some of these vehicles and personnel dispatched from bases as far away as Washington State.

Leyden said Miramar dispatched one of its fire trucks to help battle the Pendleton fires, with another two working with civil authorities to fight fires in Ramona, 21 miles northeast of the base. She added that two of the base's flight line crash trucks have been deployed to two small airports in the county in support of civil authorities.

"I really love being out here," said Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 1st Class Ryan Grant, helicopter crew chief of one of the Navy MH-60s fighting the fires. "I am having the chance to help out the community by just doing my job."

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