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"High Rollers" continue fighting California wildfires

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS071024-01
Release Date: 10/24/2007 7:11:00 AM


By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman (SW) Sarah E. Bitter, Fleet Public Affairs Center, Pacific

NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND, CALIF. (NNS) -- Navy firefighting helicopters from the "High Rollers" of Helicopter Sea Combat Support (HSC) 85 based at Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI) continued their second day of missions Oct. 23, as they attacked wildfires in San Diego County, supporting the California Department of Forestry (CalFire).

Two MH-60S helicopters were sent up to battle the Harris Ranch Fires in San Diego. Forty other helicopters from NASNI were also on standby to support other mission areas.

"We began our second day of sorties at 8 a.m. this morning and the guys will not stop until sunset," said Capt. Matthew Pringle, commodore of HSC-85. "We are working in conjunction with CalFire and coordinating under Navy Region Southwest. We have met all requests; as soon as there is a call we are there to put out the fire."

Pringle stood up the Helo Coordination Center (HCC) as the single point of contact for operations related to evacuations, search and rescue, bucket brigade, fire-spotting and fire-mapping operations Oct. 22.

"This is a complicated airspace. We are having to coordinate our mission with all of the other helicopter flying," added Pringle. "HSC-85 is very capable of being where it needs to be."

The squadron is the only one in the San Diego area trained to provide firefighting support to military installations and trains for this mission regularly. That training was proven valuable in the California Cedar Fires of 2003, detailing operating procedures and the type of support the Navy could provide in fire emergencies.

"It is tough out there, but by us being out here we are adding another dimension by providing air support," said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Wilderman, operations officer at HSC-85.

The helicopters each carry 420 gallons of water, a four-member aircrew team and were launched to help with firefighting efforts Oct 22.

"My job is to sit in the back of the helicopter and direct the pilots on when and where to drop the bucket; as well as where they need to put the water onto to the fire," said Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 1st Class Ryan Grant, helicopter crew chief of HSC-85. "I really love being out here. I am having the chance to help out the community by just doing my job."

A hotline number for evacuation housing referrals and general assistance was established at: 619-556-9399.

Key and essential personnel including all Naval Medical Center San Diego personnel should report for duty as directed by their respective commands.

Emergency shelter and evacuation centers for military personnel are available at Naval Base San Diego Prout Field House (Dry Side of Naval Base SD), and at Naval Base Coronado.

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