Soldiers with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion create a grid line to search for hotspots, to remove burning or hazardous material and help ensure a wildfire does not reignite at the August Complex wildland fire Sept. 4, 2020 in Mendocino National Forest. The Soldiers of the 14th BEB are deployed to Northern California at the request of the National Interagency Fire Center in support of Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations where they work side-by-side with professional wildland firefighters. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Ybarra)
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Soldiers with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion create a grid line to search for hotspots, to remove burning or hazardous material and help ensure a wildfire does not reignite at the August Complex wildland fire Sept. 4, 2020 in Mendocino National Forest. The Soldiers of the 14th BEB are deployed to Northern California at the request of the National Interagency Fire Center in support of Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations where they work side-by-side with professional wildland firefighters. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Ybarra) (Photo Credit: Spc. Michael Ybarra) VIEW ORIGINAL
Soldiers with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion dig out a hotspot during mop-up operations of the August Complex wildland fire Sept. 4, 2020 in Mendocino National Forest. The Soldiers are conducting mop-up operations to remove burning or hazardous material in order to ensure the wildfire does not reignite. Soldiers of the 14th BEB are deployed to Northern California, at the request of the National Interagency Fire Center, in support of Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations where they will work side-by-side with professional wildland firefighters. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Ybarra)
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Soldiers with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion dig out a hotspot during mop-up operations of the August Complex wildland fire Sept. 4, 2020 in Mendocino National Forest. The Soldiers are conducting mop-up operations to remove burning or hazardous material in order to ensure the wildfire does not reignite. Soldiers of the 14th BEB are deployed to Northern California, at the request of the National Interagency Fire Center, in support of Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations where they will work side-by-side with professional wildland firefighters. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Ybarra) (Photo Credit: Spc. Michael Ybarra) VIEW ORIGINAL

In the midst of the California wildfires, there are over 200 U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) Soldiers supporting wildland fire ground response operations in the August complex, located in the densely forested northern part of the state.

“We are proud to support the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service in their effort to suppress the fires in Northern California,” said Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, ARNORTH and Joint Force Land Component commander, or JFLCC.

Richardson said the Soldiers assisting in this mission are highly-trained and well equipped with all of the protective gear needed to keep them safe, to include measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The U.S. Army North supporting unit, the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, or JBLM, Washington, is assisting the U.S. Forest Service, at the request of the National Interagency Fire Center, with wildland fire response efforts in the Mendocino National Forest.

The Soldiers deployed Aug. 31 and conducted training and fire line certification prior to and immediately upon arrival to base camp.

Soldiers with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington learn and execute proper fire hose techniques near Stonyford, California on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. The 14th BEB deployed over 200 Soldiers in support of the Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible DoD support to the National Interagency Fire Center to respond quickly and effectively to protect lives, property, critical infrastructure and natural and cultural resources. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Preston Robinson)
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Soldiers with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington learn and execute proper fire hose techniques near Stonyford, California on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. The 14th BEB deployed over 200 Soldiers in support of the Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible DoD support to the National Interagency Fire Center to respond quickly and effectively to protect lives, property, critical infrastructure and natural and cultural resources. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Preston Robinson) (Photo Credit: Spc. Preston Robinson) VIEW ORIGINAL
A group from Rugged 10, a hand crew of 22 Soldiers with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, grid and search for hotspots in Mendocino National Forest, Nothern California, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. Gridding operations involve hand crews searching for small fires by systematically traveling over an area on parallel courses or gridlines. 

The 14th BEB deployed over 200 Soldiers in support of the Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible DoD support to the National Interagency Fire Center to respond quickly and effectively to protect lives, property, critical infrastructure and natural and cultural resources. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Preston Robinson)
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A group from Rugged 10, a hand crew of 22 Soldiers with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, grid and search for hotspots in Mendocino National Forest, Nothern California, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. Gridding operations involve hand crews searching for small fires by systematically traveling over an area on parallel courses or gridlines.

The 14th BEB deployed over 200 Soldiers in support of the Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible DoD support to the National Interagency Fire Center to respond quickly and effectively to protect lives, property, critical infrastructure and natural and cultural resources. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Preston Robinson) (Photo Credit: Spc. Preston Robinson)
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Since their arrival at the #AugustComplex wildland fire, the Soldiers have been working extremely hard, hiking up mountains carrying hoses and equipment, creating grids to search for hotspots, and helping ensure extinguished wildfires dos not reignite.

Spc. Jesus Ramos with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, strikes a tree stump with his Pulaski during mopup operations in Mendocino National Forest, Nothern California, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. Mopup operations involves hand crews extinguishing or removing burning material near control lines, felling snags, and trenching logs to prevent rolling after an area has burned, making a fire safer and reducing residual smoke. 

The 14th BEB deployed over 200 Soldiers in support of the Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible DoD support to the National Interagency Fire Center to respond quickly and effectively to protect lives, property, critical infrastructure and natural and cultural resources. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Preston Robinson)
Spc. Jesus Ramos with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, strikes a tree stump with his Pulaski during mopup operations in Mendocino National Forest, Nothern California, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. Mopup operations involves hand crews extinguishing or removing burning material near control lines, felling snags, and trenching logs to prevent rolling after an area has burned, making a fire safer and reducing residual smoke.

The 14th BEB deployed over 200 Soldiers in support of the Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible DoD support to the National Interagency Fire Center to respond quickly and effectively to protect lives, property, critical infrastructure and natural and cultural resources. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Preston Robinson) (Photo Credit: Spc. Preston Robinson)
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Spc. Michael Ybarra, a photographer with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment from JBLM, is in California following the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion into the fire zone.

The California native said covering the wildfires is like nothing he has ever experienced.

“For the past couple of weeks, I have been out documenting the Soldiers while they conduct mop up and burn operations. That is when they go out and check for hot spots, and burn any wildfire fuel to prevent further spread into populated areas,” he said.

“The Soldiers go out on location for three or four days at a time, working practically non-stop in the heat and smoke and ash, digging lines, cutting down trees, and creating controlled burns,” he said, adding that the Soldiers have a break between rotations to replenish, take showers and rest before they head back out.

A Soldier with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion uses a pulaski tool to remove a root from a hotspot to ensure burning or hazardous materials are cooled down and help prevent a wildfire from reigniting at the August Complex wildland fire Sept. 4, 2020 in Mendocino National Forest. Soldiers of the 14th BEB are deployed to Northern California, at the request of the National Interagency Fire Center, in support of Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations where they will work side-by-side with professional wildland firefighters. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Ybarra)
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A Soldier with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion uses a pulaski tool to remove a root from a hotspot to ensure burning or hazardous materials are cooled down and help prevent a wildfire from reigniting at the August Complex wildland fire Sept. 4, 2020 in Mendocino National Forest. Soldiers of the 14th BEB are deployed to Northern California, at the request of the National Interagency Fire Center, in support of Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations where they will work side-by-side with professional wildland firefighters. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Ybarra) (Photo Credit: Spc. Michael Ybarra) VIEW ORIGINAL
Spc. Bailey Walker with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, sharpens his Pulaski after mopup operations in Mendocino National Forest, Nothern California, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. The Pulaski, a special hand tool used in fighting wildfires, combines an axe and an adze in one head and is used for constructing firebreaks, dig soil and chop trees and roots. 

The 14th BEB deployed over 200 Soldiers in support of the Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible DoD support to the National Interagency Fire Center to respond quickly and effectively to protect lives, property, critical infrastructure and natural and cultural resources. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Preston Robinson)
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Spc. Bailey Walker with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, sharpens his Pulaski after mopup operations in Mendocino National Forest, Nothern California, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. The Pulaski, a special hand tool used in fighting wildfires, combines an axe and an adze in one head and is used for constructing firebreaks, dig soil and chop trees and roots.

The 14th BEB deployed over 200 Soldiers in support of the Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible DoD support to the National Interagency Fire Center to respond quickly and effectively to protect lives, property, critical infrastructure and natural and cultural resources. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Preston Robinson) (Photo Credit: Spc. Preston Robinson)
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Ybarra said the battalion crews out on the lines are very upbeat about what they are accomplishing.

“Their spirits are high. A lot of these guys are from California, so they are happy to back doing what they can do to keep their state and their home safe,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we are Soldiers. We are here to serve the U.S. of A., so doing this work is essentially that,” he said. “We are serving our nation by trying to control and suppress these fires, and aiding our federal allies.”

For Ybarra, who has never covered fires before, the experience has been mind-boggling.

“Being able to experience fires like this, of this magnitude – now the largest fire in California history - is something you won’t soon forget,” he said.

Pvt. First Class Laura Peña, who is normally a technical engineer specialist who surveys building sites and tests soil with the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion at JBLM, is currently spending her days organizing convoys and tracking her battalion’s troop movements in the Mendocino National Forest.

Peña said while troops are active in the fight against the August Complex wildfires, measures are taken constantly to ensure their safety.

“I am the link between the Soldiers on the fire line and command team,” she said. “We are basically here overshadowing, making sure our troops are safe, and we have the accountability of them as they support the division and branch commanders fighting the wildland fire.”

In addition, Peña said trained professional wildland firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management are assigned to each crew to ensure processes are being followed. Each crew also has a communication device that is used to contact the Tactical Operations Center where Pena is located.

"We have different methods of communication, but the main method is a software that allows us to see their real-time location and allows them to send us messages regarding their movements, status, medical situations, or even request information,” she said.

During this historic 2020 wildfire season, Peña said she considers it a privilege to be able to contribute to the fight.

“I feel honored to be here, to help in such a historic event,” she said. “It is an excellent opportunity to help in some way when the country needs us the most.”

Recently, the U.S. Army North commander and Command Sgt. Maj. Phil Barretto, senior enlisted leader, visited the area where the Soldiers are deployed and were briefed by 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion Soldiers and members of the Great Basin Team 2. They also met with the director of California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, director of CAL FIRE, and the Pacific Southwest Region Director of Fire and Aviation Management for U.S. Forest Service, to discuss current response operations.

Command Sgt. Maj. Phil Barretto, U.S. Army North Command Sergeant Major, (left) inspects the fire resistant boots issued to soldiers of the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion during his visit to Stonyford, California, Sep. 1, 2020. The 14th BEB is deployed to California, at the request of the National Interagency Fire Center, in support of Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations where they will work side-by-side with professional wildland firefighters. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Ybarra)
Command Sgt. Maj. Phil Barretto, U.S. Army North Command Sergeant Major, (left) inspects the fire resistant boots issued to soldiers of the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion during his visit to Stonyford, California, Sep. 1, 2020. The 14th BEB is deployed to California, at the request of the National Interagency Fire Center, in support of Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations where they will work side-by-side with professional wildland firefighters. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Ybarra) (Photo Credit: Spc. Michael Ybarra) VIEW ORIGINAL

"Having these key partnerships already in place and quickly integrating our supported units is pivotal to success,” Barretto said. “Our service members are ready, trained and capable of supporting when called on.”

The August Complex of fires began as 37 lightning-ignited fires Aug. 17. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the fire has burned more than 839,175 acres and the fire perimeter is 30 percent contained as of Sept. 17.