Monday, July 16 , 2018, 5:27 am | Fair 65º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Mandatory Evacuations Issued for Vandenberg AFB Buildings At Risk From North Base Vegetation Fire

Base housing not at risk from 250-acre fire that started in area of Washington Avenue and 13th Street

Aircraft fight the fire on the North Base of Vandenberg Air Force Base that sparked Thursday afternoon as crews gained ground containing the South Base Canyon Fire. Click to view larger
Aircraft fight the fire on the North Base of Vandenberg Air Force Base that sparked Thursday afternoon as crews gained ground containing the South Base Canyon Fire. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

A second fire that started Thursday afternoon on north Vandenberg Air Force Base prompted evacuations and the base instructed only mission essential personnel to report to work Friday. 

Base housing was not threatened by the fire, which burned an estimated 215-250 acres as of Friday morning with unknown containment. 

As of 7 a.m., Vandenberg officials reported no containment yet said the fire was under control. 

"There was minimal fire activity overnight and the fire crews made good progress establishing precautionary fire breaks and structure defenses for several buildings on the base," officials said. 

"Significant amounts of fire retardant were dropped on parts of North Base by aircraft during the fire response yesterday. Personnel may see the retardant on the ground or buildings.The retardant does not present any health risk. However, it can be an irritant to skin or eyes. Should any base personnel come in contact with the retardant, they should wash their hands and flush their eyes." 

The Washington Fire, initially called the Airfield Road Fire by Vandenberg officials, started around 2 p.m. near the 30th Communications Squadron building which sits on Washington Avenue. Preliminary reports indicate it started from a downed power line.

Crews assigned to the South Base Canyon Fire responded to help with the wind-driven Washington Fire Thursday, including engines and aircraft.

As of 8 p.m., officials said the North Base fire was estimated up to 300 acres and not threatening base housing. No containment number was released.

High winds and dry vegetation initially fueled the fire, said Lt. Col. Ryan Novotny,  30th Civil Engineer Squadron commander and fire marshal. 

A helicopter collects water from the base pool to help battle the north base fire. Click to view larger
A helicopter collects water from the base pool to help battle the north base fire. (Senior Airman Julie Kazanas, 30th Security Forces Squadron patrolman / Vandenberg Air Force Base photo)

"Since then we've received a good break in the weather, the winds have died down and firefighters are building containment lines around the incident," Novotny said. 

He added, "Right now we've got a good boundary on all sides of the fire."

Wind gusts up to 40 mph were noted at Vandenberg on Thursday,  Novotny said, adding it led to smaller spot fires that were quickly extinguished. 

"The fire is spreading south due to high winds," Vandenberg officials said of the North Base fire in an update around 3:40 p.m. "Buildings that are at risk are being evacuated." 

The new blaze occurred on the heart of Vandenberg, with office buildings, housing facilities and other amenities normally seen in a small city.

Officials said smoke from the fire was visible from base housing and throughout North Base, but there was no risk to base housing.

Mandatory evacuations were issued for the following buildings, with people asked to head to the commissary: 12000, 12006, 7000 complex, gym, Airman and Family Readiness Center, FAMCAMP, Flight Line Complex, and POL building. 

A large cloud of smoke rises above Vandenberg Air Force Base on Thursday due to a new vegetation fire burning in the heart of the base. Click to view larger
A large cloud of smoke rises above Vandenberg Air Force Base on Thursday due to a new vegetation fire burning in the heart of the base. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

"Base personnel were allowed to go home early as a precaution to allow firefighters better access to the area," Novotny said.

All incoming traffic to the base was closed indefinitely, officials announced around 4 p.m. The Utah Gate was open only for base housing residents, they said. 

Some residents reported being turned away from the Utah gate at the base and officials told people to try again, saying "the miscommunication has been cleared up." 

Amid the confusion mothers with babies and people with groceries in the cars parked at the Main Gate parking lot while waiting to enter.

On Thursday night, VAFB officials said Lompoc Unified School District campuses will hold classes and buses will operate.

Only mission-essential personnel will report to work Friday, with all other military personnel to remain on 6-ring alert.

Col. Chris Moss, 30th Space Wing commander, authorized civilian administrative leave.

The Child Development Center, Youth Center, commissary, gas station and the Breakers Dining Facility will remain open for normal business hours.

However, the 30th Medical Group will remain closed for patient care.

The fire started in the area of 13th Street and Washington Avenue, near Airfield Road.  

No buildings were damaged due to the Washington Fire, with large amounts of concrete and asphalt serving as fire breaks.

Fire resources responded to the so-called Washington Fire that started on the north Vandenberg Air Force Base Thursday. Click to view larger
Fire resources responded to the so-called Washington Fire that started on the north Vandenberg Air Force Base Thursday.  (Staff Sgt. Shane Phipps / Vandenberg Air Force Base photo)

The Canyon Fire's slow growth allowed incident commanders to divert firefighters to the new blaze.

They also benefited from an aircraft, technically assigned to the Canyon Fire, flying overhead to provide infrared heat signature imagery "which allows us really accurate spotting of any potential threats," Novotny said.

"And we can continue to work on cleaning that up during the night," he said of remaining hot spots.

The exotic car show planned for Saturday was canceled because of the base-wide firefighting efforts, officials announced Thursday night. 

Base officials said Thursday that the Canyon Fire is 90-percent contained and crews expected to make good progress despite the strong winds in the area. 

Smoke from one or both of the fires was blowing into Lompoc and dropping ash in the area Thursday afternoon.

North County Editor Janene Scully reported from the scene.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli 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.

Some buildings on Vandenberg Air Force Base were evacuated Thursday after a second fire started, this time on North Base, as crews got containment of the Canyon Fire. Click to view larger
Some buildings on Vandenberg Air Force Base were evacuated Thursday after a second fire started, this time on North Base, as crews got containment of the Canyon Fire.  (Staff Sgt. Shane Phipps / Vandenberg Air Force Base photo)

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