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Controlled burn clears view for MWSS-374

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 5/02/2004

Story by Staff Sgt. Houston F. White Jr.

AL TAQQADUM, Iraq(May 2, 2004) -- The scene unfolded in a scripted symphony of fiery devastation. The sharp crackling of dry reed and underbrush blended frantically with the pungent aroma of the thick, dark smoke that filled the sky. Amidst the choreographed inferno stood the two Marines responsible for setting the designated area ablaze- systematically reducing it to a pasture of smoldering ash.

The controlled burn performed here, April 27, by base fire inspectors Staff Sgt. Donald Burton and Cpl. Samuel D. Minks, both members of Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, was conducted to make the base less accessible to intruders by water.

"Today we conducted a controlled burn on the shoreline of Lake Habbaniyah so that the Marines manning the observation tower here can have clear visibility of anything or anyone that attempts to come to the shore or on base without the tower seeing them," said Burton, a 34-year-old native of Cincinnati.

"We have never had a problem at this guard post before," he added, "but it was done because the shoreline was covered by underbrush and the camp commandant just wanted to have a little more security over the area."

According to Minks, the dangers inherent to handling fire were reduced because of the training he and Burton received at military occupational specialty school.

"At the aircraft firefighting school in Goodfellow, Texas, part of our curriculum was wild land firefighting," said the 24-year-old native of St. Louis. "It's really in-depth training. Our instructors started fires and we had to put them out; so that helped us a lot today."

Prior planning also played a key part in making sure that any possible hazards were appropriately addressed, Burton said.

"Before we started the burn, we came out four days in advance and checked the surrounding area to make sure there wasn't any billeting or personnel working nearby. If there was anything like that close to this region, we would have had to dig and create a berm around the area that we were burning."

In addition, Minks mentioned that both Army and Marine firefighting units here were notified that the controlled burn was taking place, so that they could stop by and check to make sure everything was under control.

Probably the largest factor assisting the dynamic duo in accomplishing their mission was Mother Nature.

"The area we burned is very dry and it's stacked up really thick, so if you start a small fire in one area and the wind is working with you, it can help push it, and you can burn several acres of land in a short period of time," explained Minks.

"The surrounding elements helped us keep the fires we started in control," added Burton. "We have a lot of wetlands around this particular area, so the fire burned until it reached the moist, green areas of the shoreline and then it kind of burned itself out."

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