Fort Hood fire response B-roll
By Dave Larsen
Command Information Officer
FORT HOOD, Texas — While record-breaking high temperatures in Central Texas continued through the weekend and into this week, the Fort Hood Fire Department continued to battle to suppress and contain wildfire blazes within the post’s training ranges.
Installation officials announced July 24 the suspension of all live-fire gunnery exercises for all munitions until further notice, as aerial and ground-level firefighting operations intensified on post. The suspension of live-fire operations came after post officials announced the closure of West Range and Triple A roads due to billowing smoke making them dangerous for motorists.
Grass fires were first spotted flaring up within the installation’s impact area July 17. Since then, four separate fires within the training area eventually grew to affect approximately 8,500 acres.
“We are carefully managing risk from this fire to reduce any possible impacts to our neighboring communities,” III Corps and Fort Hood Deputy Commanding General Maj. Gen. Kenneth Kamper said in a statement Tuesday, “who do so much to support our Soldiers and their Families.”
Due to their isolated location, the fires within Fort Hood’s training area pose no immediate risk of leaving the installation boundary, nor does it pose an immediate threat to life or property, installation officials stressed in each media update this week. However, the intense heat over the past week has impacted firefighting operations.
“The record heat and extreme dry conditions have created intense fire behavior,” said Bob Adams, chief of operations for the Fort Hood Directorate of Emergency Services, “thus making it a challenge to extinguish fires. The fires are burning extremely hot and burn the dry vegetation very quickly.”
Firefighting efforts were augmented, initially, by the Texas State Forestry Service providing water and fire retardant drops, though TSFS assistance left the installation over the weekend to tackle larger fires elsewhere in the state, according to Fort Hood Garrison Commander Col. Hank Perry. He said, however, that a number of military units – from the 36th Engineer Brigade; 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division; and UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopters from the 166th Aviation Brigade and the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade, as well as CH-47 Chinook Helicopters from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, which utilizes the Great Place as a training base – have been instrumental in firefighting operations within the post’s impact area.
Bulldozers and graders from the 36th Eng. Bde., as well as the Garrison Command’s Directorate of Public Works, have been working on widening firebreaks, while aviation assets have been dropping water from Bambi Buckets onto hot spots within the impact area.
Perry said Tactical Air Control Party specialists from the Air Force’s 9th Air Support Operations Squadron, 3rd Air Support Operations Group, have been essential in facilitating “airspace deconfliction and precise actions on the objective, while our Directorate of Emergency Services stood up an incident command post under the command of our Fire Chief Sergio Campos – providing clear priorities and coordination across all efforts.”
“(This has been) exceptional teamwork by all as we fight multiple fires across the range complex,” Perry said July 25. The garrison commander, along with Campos and 89th Military Brigade Commander Col. Richard Ball, who also heads up the installation’s DES, conducted an aerial reconnaissance of the fires in the afternoon of July 24.
“(It) proved to me just how widespread the fires became, how difficult the terrain is for our firefighters, how professional our aviators are in conducting their missions, and just how important it is that we conduct prescribed burns year-round to reduce fuel (brush) so that we can train continuously,” Perry said, noting that since November the installation conducted prescribed burns affecting more than 21,000 acres.
“The entire installation team, along with every tenant unit on Fort Hood has a stake in this in order for us to balance tough realistic training – maintaining unit readiness – while managing impacts on the environment,” the garrison commander said. “(This is) truly a team effort!”
Since the fires began, Adams said more than 60,000 man-hours have been dedicated to tackling the blazes in the impact area. As firefighting operations continue, heat has been a safety concern for Fort Hood senior leaders. On July 23, the temperature rose to a record-breaking 112 degrees, though daily high temperatures have dropped roughly 10 degrees since then. Post officials noted that the Fort Hood Red Cross and USO have been helping to sustain the firefighting effort by providing food and beverages to more than 300 people involved.
That teamwork extends beyond the installation’s boundaries. While dozens of fires have raged across the state of Texas the past week, including in neighboring communities adjacent to the Great Place, Fort Hood remained committed to working together with its surrounding community partners.
“Mutual aid agreements are very important to Fort Hood and the surrounding local communities,” Adams said. “It allows the sharing of resources and personnel to quickly and effectively attack fires. Last week, Fort Hood did support off the installation firefighting efforts. However, at this time all Fort Hood fire assets are assigned to the Fort Hood fire. We have received assistance from both state and local fire assets in support of the Fort Hood fire, which have greatly help our efforts. Times like these highlight the importance of our fire mutual aid agreements and the greater importance of our partnerships with the local community.”
The garrison commander echoed Adams’ sentiments.
“Here at Fort Hood, we enjoy tremendously close relationships with our Central Texas communities,” Perry said. “We maintain mutual aid agreements between our law enforcement, firefighting and first responders with all our neighboring cities. Fort Hood is home to 36,000 Soldiers and that translates to approximately 45,000 military dependents living in the surrounding communities. The sense of community on and off the installation is strong, and necessary, for our Soldiers to train and maintain readiness in support of our national defense.”