CHANNEL ISLANDS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Calif. (Army News Service, Oct. 26, 2007) - The Santa Ana winds lost strength in Southern California Thursday, allowing military and civilian firefighters to make progress against wildfires that had blazed across seven counties.

National Guard helicopters carrying big Bambi water buckets were trying to bring under control the firestorm that had forced some 500,000 residents to flee their homes. A number were able to return home this morning and the Army Corps of Engineers stood ready -- along with Guard Soldiers - to provide drinking water and other relief supplies if needed.

Six Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve C-130 Hercules planes equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System dropped tons of fire retardant on wildfires in San Diego County.

The aircraft conducted 18 sorties - six against the Poomacha fire and 12 sorties against the Witch fire - under operational control of U.S. Northern Command and at the request of the local incident commander.

U.S. Army North deployed a command assessment element from Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, to Pasadena, Calif. in response to the recent wildfires.

Maj. Gen. Thomas Matthews, the element's commander, explained the team is a "follow on" effort to what the defense coordinating officer and his staff was already accomplishing.

"It is very important, when you enter an event like this, not to disrupt or distract any responders who are deeply engaged." Maj. Gen. Matthews said. For this reason, he continued, Army North put together a small team of functional experts to assess the situation in a "quiet way."

According to Matthews, the command assessment element is responsible to report its findings back to the NORTHCOM commander who then "pushes" the information up to the Department of Defense, said Maj. Gen. Matthews.

ARNORTH is the Army Component of Northern Command, the unified command responsible for homeland defense and civil support missions.

(Sgt. 1st Class Lori Simmons of ARNORTH Public Affairs provided information for this article, along with the National Guard Bureau.)