The Fort Hunter Liggett Army Reserve post is under an evacuation warning due to the Dolan Fire, which started on Aug. 19, 2020, and FHL emergency services are working around the clock to successfully keep the Dolan Fire from spreading further. There is no immediate risk to the cantonment. Residents, tenants, employees, and the training population have been told to prepare in case an evacuation order is given.
The Dolan fire in the Big Sur of Central California, as of the afternoon of Sept. 17, has burned 125,559 with 40 percent containment. The fire breached FHL northwest training areas, Sept. 7. Firefighters continue to monitor the fire, improve and build new fire breaks, and adjust strategy and tactics as needed to keep the post safe.
“We’re safe because of the incredible teamwork between the installation and tenants, with assets to help prevent the fire from endangering the cantonment area,” said Garrison Commander Col. Charles Bell. “The adage – it takes a village – is very relevant here at Fort Hunter Liggett because we’re so isolated and remote. We have to work together for the best interest of everyone here.”
The garrison immediately transitioned its Installation Operation Center to an Emergency Operation Center (EOC) to track the progress of the fire on a 24 hour basis. The EOC conducted update briefs twice a day, and included all tenants to keep everyone informed and coordinate efforts to keep the post safe and prepared.
“We continue to work our fortification plan and build reinforcements around the post perimeter,” said Shawn Sullivan, director of Emergency Services. “I think we’re in a good place right now, but it is not the time to get complacent as we still have active fire to our north and northeast borders.”
The FHL Fire Department conducted a 1,500-acre backburn along Del Venturi Road on Sept. 8 to prevent Dolan Fire from spreading to the cantonment. A spot fire flared between the active fire and the FHL backburn area that evening, close enough for residents to see the flames. The garrison issued a warning order for post residents to be prepared in the event an evacuation is required. The Dolan Fire Unified Command and FHL Emergency services immediately responded with multiple airplanes dropping retardant, helicopters conducting water drops, and a large hand crew to create a break around the 1,500-acre backburn area.
“Watching the flames can give you chills and put some fear in you, but I trust in the system in place to make sure we are safe. It is scary and cool to watch the fires glow at nights as long as they stay over at the ridges,” said resident Amy Widner. “As a military spouse, we are taught to be strong and resilient and with the support of the command, we will overcome this brief hurdle from the fire. We are going to be ok and safe.” Widner’s husband is an Army Reserve Soldier stationed at FHL, and an Army Civilian at the 102nd Training Division TASS Training Center-FHL (TTC-FHL).
The Fort Hunter Liggett Fire Department provided advanced life support to 14 California firefighters and bulldozer operators who were injured when the Dolan Fire jumped the containment line off Nacimiento-Ferguson Road, trapping and forcing them to deploy a fire shelter as a last resort, Sept. 8. FHL coordinated the medivac helicopters to transport the injured to a Fresno hospital.
The installation regularly conducts a full-scale and tabletop emergency response exercises so staff are familiar with processes. These exercises include external resources such as the Southern Monterey Emergency Response Team and local emergency services partners.
“We have good relations with the external community which helps in time of need,” said Matt Smith, Emergency Management (EM) Officer. The EM and Public Affairs offices continually engage with the external community to maintain good relations.
In addition, Army engineers, who are instructors of the TTC-FHL, assisted by providing bulldozers and drivers to build fire breaks near the perimeter of the cantonment. “We have motivated and highly trained engineer instructors and a maintenance team that always ensures our heavy machinery is fully operational,” said Maj. Jose A. Yrigollen, TTC-FHL Officer-in-Charge. “It has been a rewarding opportunity to see our team put their skills to work in a real world crisis.”
FHL Fire & Emergency Services officially entered into a Unified Command with the Incident Management Team on Sept. 11, which means we have our department embedded with the Incident Management Team to ensure the proper sharing of information and resources to support fire suppression activities and ultimately extinguish the fire. FHL has equipment and staff supporting the Dolan Fire, while also actively monitoring the garrison. The FHL Public Works continues to improve existing fire breaks and create new ones to build a good perimeter defense.
FHL is also supporting the Dolan Fire by providing space for fire operations and rest areas. The Incident Management team has been using the post’s Tusi heliport as a helitack base to stage up to 10 helicopters that provide bucket drops to all areas of the fire. They are also using parts of our base as a spike camp, a secondary camp site for forestry crews to bed down and provide logistical support to the fire.
“The post has been very proactive at keeping the community apprised of what is going on,” said Widner. “The Public Affairs Office has been staying on top of the post Facebook page and answering concerns as they came across, and that has helped greatly. The recaps after the briefings has helped, too.” Widner says she and her family have their go bags ready and their vehicle’s gas tank full in case evacuation is ordered.
“It’s important to provide the information our community needs to feel safe, be prepared and take the necessary actions when called upon,” said Command Sgt. Major Mark Fluckiger. He is part of a team that keeps the military tenants and training population informed and prepared in case of an evacuation order.
The installation uses multiple platforms to keep the FHL community informed and prepared, such as daily emails and Facebook posts, DoD Alert! messages, and Facebook Live updates. We established the following wildfire webpage to provide a one-stop reference platform: https://home.army.mil/liggett/index.php/wildfire-info.
FHL will continue to remain vigilant, continually assess the situation and adjust our strategy and tactics as needed to protect the FHL Community.