By Steven L. Shepard, Presidio of Monterey Public AffairsJuly 27, 2016
PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. - A Presidio Fire Department Strike Team has joined thousands of other firefighters in their efforts to battle a large wildfire that has burned more than 23,000 acres in the hills between Carmel and Big Sur.
The Soberanes Fire ignited early in the morning on July 22 near Garrapata State Park and quickly spread due to wind conditions, high temperature and inaccessible terrain.
The Presidio Strike Team has been on the scene since Day 1.
POM Strike Team acting captain Lt. Sylas Jumper described the challenging conditions his firefighters are encountering.
"It's smoky! Heavy smoke," said Jumper. "It's not really controlled right now because of all the peaks and valleys. The terrain is difficult. There are a lot of challenges; steep, heavy brush terrain. The steep terrain is the hardest thing."
POM Fire Department's role at the Soberanes Fire is as part of a firefighting division made up of firefighters from CalFire, Marina, Seaside and North Monterey County. Although employed by the U.S. Army, Jumper does not feel that there is a difference between his team and other firefighting units.
"We are all firefighters and we all jump around the same and we all get along together and we know when to work and we know when to play," said Jumper. "We got the same equipment that everyone else has. We train the same, go to the same schools. We have dinner together and hang out then we all go off to work and bust our butts."
POM firefighter Keith Fulton concurred that he felt their team was no different than others battling the blaze. But after having served as an active-duty firefighter in the Army and later working as a civilian with other Army installation fire departments, he says the close working relationship and cooperation POM has with its neighboring communities is unique.
"It's a lot different than other installations. We have auto mutual aid and we work in conjunction with Seaside and Marina very well. It's almost flawless when we go on calls together," said Fulton. "At the Presidio, it is like we are just another department. We are just like Marina. We are just like Seaside. At other installations there is a line that divides us of 'we protect the base and they protect the surrounding city' and it's very black and white, and it was unheard of to help out on a strike team. But here I like how we do it. It's a positive thing."
Fulton noted that there has been a lot of preparation, but mostly business as usual as they worked mainly on protecting structures threatened by the fire.
Fulton did confess that while out on the scene he can't help but think of the people connected to the buildings they are trying to save.
"Especially if you meet the homeowners, you feel it on a personal level," said Fulton. "That's a big part of what we are thinking about out there."
"Especially last night," POM firefighter Francisco Gonzales chimed in.
(At the time of our interviews, the POM Strike Team had just completed a 24-hour shift protecting structures in the Santa Lucia Preserve, an exclusive private community of multi-million dollar homes in the Carmel Valley hills developed by Clint Eastwood.)
"We were working to protect this house that was under construction, whose owner actually stopped by this morning concerned, and we were out there trying to do our job and save as much as we can," Gonzales explained. "And although we always wish that we could do more than we can, it's Mother Nature, and there is only so much you can do. But we do our best."