1st MarDiv Marines prepare to fight Idaho wildfire

9 Aug 2000 | Cpl. Matthew Shaw

Camp Pendleton Marines have landed in Idaho to battle what is being called one of the largest wildfires in the country since 1988.

Marines from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division completed wildfire training near Salmon, ID, Monday.

Classroom training began at Camp San Mateo, Camp Pendleton, where instructors and firefighters from around the country, explained the basics of wildfire fighting. Videos helped stress the importance of safety and explain aspects of firefighting such as types of fires and fire behavior.

Training took a back seat Saturday as the battalion traveled to their campsite in Idaho. Before light broke the horizon Aug. 6, Marines filled their canteens and prepared their gear for the day. After breakfast and a shave, they climbed into 2-ton trucks and headed to the training site.

The battalion broke up into "sticks," 20-man groups, each with its own instructor. After the instructors demonstrated proper use of firefighting tools, they put pieces of tape on selected shrubs to simulate a fireline. Marines put their tools to work, removing all combustible objects, such as shrubs or trees, within three feet of one side of the fireline.

The sun's rays beat down on them and reflected off their flame-resistant yellow shirts; sweat dripped off their noses and chins as they swung axes and picks fiercely toward shrubs and grass.

"That first line we cut was really frustrating. Nobody was really communicating or observing what the whole stick was doing. We were missing spots and clearing spots that were already cleared," said Lance Cpl. Nicolas Munoz, K Company 3/5. "We did better on the next one. By the time this operation is over, I think we'll be real smooth."

The Marines and instructors moved to a more wooded training site Monday. Marines practiced cutting tress and large logs. They also learned how to use a back bladder, which the Marines referred to as the "Super Soaker." The large yellow bag containing water is connected to a hand pump. Firefighters use it to extinguish small fires and cool hot spots.

"I feel a lot safer because of the training," Lance Cpl. Munoz said. "I know what I'm doing now, and the guy next to me knows what he's doing."

Safety was incorporated into everything the Marines were taught, according to Mr. Nick Kimberger, crew instructor.

"Safety is our main objective. Our secondary goal is to put this fire out," he said.

Marines learned much in the short time allotted for training. Civilian counterparts receive 36 hours of training.

"Our instructor was very good," Lance Cpl. Munoz said. "His experience and all his stories are really sinking in with us. He tells us that firefighting is no joke; bad things really can happen."

"There really isn't enough time for thorough training," said Mr. Kimberger. "It's going to be training through the whole operation. They'll keep getting better and more skilled as firefighters."

In the back of two-ton trucks, Marines rest from a long day of work. Behind them, just over the mountaintops, the red glow of the sky reflects off the lingering clouds of smoke - a reminder of what awaits them, just over the ridge.

Headquarters Marine Corps