TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Surrounded by smoke in near white out conditions, she could see Eucalyptus trees, known by firefighters as Roman candles, igniting in giant flames. Airman 1st Class Angelica Redmond, 60th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, recalls her first experience with a wildland fire.
“You would open up the door (on the crash truck) and see black pieces of grass floating at your face,” she said. “It was moving fast and there were moments when we would get the flames down, think it was done but the flames would jump the sidewalk and we would be back at it again.”
The wildland fire that started in Suisun City, California, on July 6 charged toward Travis Air Force Base in a fury that spread quickly.
“No single department can fight a large fire by themselves,” said John Speakman, 60th CES fire chief. “There are 15 local fire departments who have agreed to help each other out during fires as part of a mutual aid agreement. We have a very tight relationship with the surrounding fire community.”
As the flames traveled, they spread close to a munitions bunker, the 621st Contingency Response Wing warehouse and moved swiftly in the direction of the Travis Equestrian Center.
When Barbara Brewer, 21st Airlift Squadron unit program coordinator and horse owner, heard the fire was near the CRW building she called the fire department to see if her two horses, who are housed at the equestrian center, would be OK. She was directed to move them to stables, so she quickly rounded up some volunteers from the squadron and headed out to assist with moving all of the horses to their stalls.
“There were two owners at the barn when I got there and more started showing up,” she said. “We all started moving horses.”
Initially, the fire was on the opposite side of the road. Then, without warning, the flames jumped the road in the direction of the stables and they were directed to evacuate the horses as quickly as possible with no hope for them returning to the stables that night.
“We walked the horses out of their stables, past the gun range and to the yard of Travis Outdoor Recreation,” said Kristine Moyer, 60th Force Support Squadron Travis Equestrian Center health secretary. “I called some of my friends with trucks, trailers and stables to help and people began showing up from the community to transfer all of the horses off base.”
Moving horses is a challenge, especially when some of the owners are temporarily deployed, out of the area or don’t have trailers for the horses.
“The really cool part of this whole thing is that when security forces directed us to evacuate, we had people who had nothing to do with the barn or the horses just showing up and asking how they could help,” said Brewer. “The outside community really stepped up and everyone came together.”
The evacuation was something they had not planned for, but it was handled efficiently and effectively.
“I would grab two horses from the stables, turn around and pass them off to be taken out of the area,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jesse Moyer, 60th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft maintenance unit superintendent. “I was there until the last horse was taken to safety.
“The fire came within 50 yards from the first stall which would’ve held a horse if we wouldn’t have evacuated them,” he added.
More than 50 horses found safe homes for the night thanks to the swift selfless action of local farms, stables and people who were willing to help evacuate and board the horses. All horses have returned safely to their stalls and are accounted for, according to Sonja Hunt, director of Travis Outdoor Recreation.
“This is a true showing of human kindness,” she said. “The equestrian world is a very unique world in which the horses are their livelihoods and special to every owner in their own right. Many members are currently deployed, temporarily deployed or on vacation. They were notified within hours of the event and all were pleased with the professionalism in which their animals were handled. I am grateful for the community in which we live in and so proud of all of those who lent a hand in this effort.”
After receiving fire engines from Vacaville, Vallejo, Suisun District, Suisun City and Montezuma, the firefighters were able to collectively protect Travis families, livestock, Air Force property and extinguish the fire with little to no damage.
“The mutual aid partnership could not be stronger,” said Speakman. “To have the ability to call a mutual aid partner, have them come on base and have them demonstrate their professionalism is incredible because we couldn’t get it done without our partners.”