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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 3:10 pm | Fair 62º


Vandenberg AFB Remains Tight-Lipped About Fire Damage, But Seeks Help With Repairs

Atlas V rocket and WorldView-4 satellite await new launch date as base recovers from Canyon Fire

At the peak of the Canyon Fire that burned Vandenberg Air Force Base, more than 1,050 firefighters from 50 agencies were assigned to fight the blaze.
At the peak of the Canyon Fire that burned Vandenberg Air Force Base, more than 1,050 firefighters from 50 agencies were assigned to fight the blaze.  (Staff Sgt. Shane Phipps / U.S. Air Force photo)

Nearly three weeks after the Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base delayed the Atlas V rocket launch, a new departure date is still a mystery and the military remains mum about damage, yet will bring in additional crews to complete repairs. 

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and its WorldView-4 satellite still sit at Space Launch Complex-3 awaiting the announcement of a new departure date while the military stays silent about likely damage to support equipment.

The fire burned more than 12,000 acres on South Base, starting Sept. 17. It was the largest of at least five Vandenberg fires within a week, some of which were blamed on downed power lines. 

“USAF assessing when the base to resume flight ops. Hope to have an answer soon,” ULA President/CEO Tory Bruno said on Twitter where he routinely has been asked about a new launch date.

Vandenberg officials have been tight-lipped about damage beyond confirming downed power lines in the area, despite unconfirmed reports in the local communities about a tracking station, weather sensor or other critical support equipment being ruined in the fire. 

Other unconfirmed reports mention damage to communication equipment.

ULA officials last said the launch would not occur before early October, but never released the targeted launch date as the Air Force began surveying damage and crafting a recovery plan.

The Air Force remains mum about what was damaged or affected by the fires. 

Airman 1st Class Hunter Allen, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical systems apprentice, works ground support for a buck arm replacement Wednesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
Airman 1st Class Hunter Allen, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical systems apprentice, works ground support for a buck arm replacement Wednesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Senior Airman Ian Dudley / U.S. Air Force photo)

“We don't have any updates at this time,” Lt. William Collette, a Vandenberg public affairs officer, said Thursday.

Questions submitted by Noozhawk to Collette two days earlier remained unanswered, including whether they intend to bring in additional crews to help with repairs.

However, a Vandenberg “feature story” about the recovery effort posted online Thursday says that “given the size and scope of the area affected and critical mission systems supported,” outside help has been requested.

While refusing to answer media questions, the story released by Vandenberg claims crews from the 30th Space Communications Squadron are still validating more than 200 miles of copper and fiber cable crossing the burned areas.

Admitting “a large amount of work to be accomplished,” Vandenberg officials said they will bring in additional crews from the 85th Engineering & Installation Squadron at Keesler AFB with their arrival expected in the coming days.

“Together with the 85th EIS, we are confident we will be able to continue to provide reliable voice, visual and data information services and technologies to our customers throughout the base for the duration of the recovery effort,” Robert Bullock, 30th SCS project manager, said in the written statement.

The Vandenberg post also refers to emergency contracts issued to complete repairs, but does not spell out how many or costs of the effort to restore commercial power to facilities still using generators. The work reportedly included cleaning electrical components and performing maintenance on substations.

Lt. Col. Alex Mignery, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron operations flight commander, has named the recovery operations chief, leading the base Recovery Working Group. That group reportedly includes representatives of base agencies needed to craft and executive the plan to resume launches.

“The recovery process after a natural disaster of this magnitude is a long-term effort, and arguably the most difficult part,” Mignery. said in a written statement. “The support, much like the fire response, has been a well-coordinated team effort. Moving forward, to restore base mission capabilities, we plan to balance the near term launch capabilities with the long term infrastructure repairs we know are needed.”

Vandenberg officials have been slow to release information about the fire, taking six hours after it first sparked to confirm anything despite repeated inquiries. Updates continued to lag as the fire raged, a fact base representatives blamed on the fact information needed to go through several levels of approval. 

Lompoc Valley residents with horses boarded near the base complained about lack of timely information while the fire exploded as equine owners assessed whether they needed to evacuate. One horse owner even used an all-terrain vehicle to reach the top the ridge to monitor the fire’s progress on behalf of the group.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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