Dugway provides basecamp for firefighters from across the nation

DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- A wildfire in Utah's west desert spread dangerously close to Dugway Proving Ground last week; however, no evacuation was ordered and there was no interruption in testing activities.

The fire started from 17 lightning strikes in the Onaqui Mountain area, July 16, late in the afternoon. Dugway, Terra, and Bureau of Land Management fire crews responded initially to attack the fire. Firefighters from Stockton, Rush Valley, Vernon, Tooele Army Depot and the state of Utah's Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands also assisted.

The fire, driven by strong winds from the south, grew quickly and within 24 hours was threatening the Dugway fence line, a church located outside the Dugway main gate, and homes in Terra, a small town eight miles east of Dugway.

Major firefighting support arrived the evening of July 17 when the Northern Utah Type 3 Incident Management Team arrived, with its ability to mobilize, coordinate, support and control large teams of firefighters.

Accompanying firefighters to Dugway were administrative, operations, and logistics support personnel who set up an incident command post, a basecamp and a helipad for air operations.

Jeff Sanocki, the incident commander for the team, flew over the fire with the team's operations officer on Sunday to assess the situation. "We were primarily looking at the fire's complexity."

"Then we did a complexity analysis and determined what level of expertise was needed, using the fire behavior, the resources that were are on the scene and higher agency expectations," he said.

Ultimately, the Utah team was delegated authority by the Bureau of Land Management and the state of Utah to coordinate fire suppression for nine fires in the area, grouped under the operational label Onaqui Mountain Complex.

"We received objectives from them, included them in our incident action plan and then put them into play," Sanocki said. "

Sanocki emphasized that safety was paramount. "Firefighter and public safety are always first and foremost," he said.

By Tuesday morning, the fire had burned more than 30,000 acres. When fully contained Thursday evening, nearly 38,000 acres had been burned.

The Incident Management Team, basecamp and support operations, at their peak, comprised nearly 550 personnel, more than 275 of whom were firefighters.

"The firefighters come from all over the country. We have crews from as far away as Florida, interagency and contract crews, and we have local crews from the BLM and U.S. Forest Service," said Sanocki. "We have fire engines, hand crews, helicopters, smoke jumpers . . . the whole gamut on this one."

Establishing the basecamp and command post on Dugway was convenient Sanocki said. "Dugway has been a great set up for us. It already has a lot of those resources we need . . . infrastructure, office facilities and places to sleep."

Sanocki and his team coordinated for space on Dugway with two critical installation organizations: the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, and the Directorate of Public Works.

"If not for Dugway, we would have to set this facility up in the desert and it would not be as comfortable for the firefighters and support folks. Dugway has been a great partner in this," Sanocki said.

Philip Krippner, Dugway installation safety manager, viewed the firefighting operations very positively, acknowledging that testing and training, valued at over a million dollars, continued uninterrupted with no adverse operational impact.

"Dugway's ability to continue testing and training during these off-post emergency response actions is vital to our nation's defense," Krippner said. "Dugway appreciates the dedication and hard work of the men and women providing emergency response actions to suppress the wildland fires."

Sanocki also praised the firefighters, stating, "Most firefighters work up to 16-hour days with briefings that begin in the morning at 6 a.m."

"Most often, they don't get in until 8 or 9 p.m. at night, eat dinner, bed down and then get up and do it all again the next day."

Jeanene Dole, of Moab, said, "I like doing outdoor stuff." She has been fighting fires for nearly 18 months and works on a Type 4 engine that holds more than 750 gallons of water.

"It's great to be outside and meet a lot of really cool people. The job is pretty dynamic and I like that," Dole said.

Aaron Pellegrini, a sixth-generation firefighter with the Yerington-Mason Valley Fire Department in Yerington, Nevada has been fighting fires for six years and says he loves the job. "Every day it is something different and I get to meet new people," he said.

"We all do this for the same reason, we like helping people and we feel appreciated," said Pellegrini.

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U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground is the nation's designated Major Range and Test Facility Base for Chemical and Biological Defense (C/B) Testing and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Support, conducting efficient testing and support to enable our nation's defenders to counter chemical, biological, radiological, and explosives (CBRE) hazards. Dugway Proving Ground provides unparalleled testing, evaluation, training, and technical support to the Department of Defense, inter-agency partners, and our Allies. For more information, visit our website at www.dugway.army.mil and join us on Facebook (official) at www.facebook.com/USArmyDPG.