445th CES Airmen battle wildfires, train in Texas

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Rachel Ingram
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Six Airmen from the 445th Civil Engineer Squadron had a hand in battling a wildland blaze that burned more than 80 acres on Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, on Aug. 25, 2020.

“I was on the first engine company to arrive on scene,” said Senior Airman Ryan Guenther, fire prevention journeyman, 445th CES. “We chased it into the woods and did our best to contain it until mutual aid arrived.”

At one point, the base’s family camp area laid only a couple hundred yards away, and recreational vehicles were within the firefighters’ sight.

“Texas is so dry that the wind carries the fire across the grass rapidly,” Guenther said. “In this case, it moved across the grass and into a wooded area.”

To mitigate the spread, emergency responders from a number of agencies, including Texas A&M Forest Service, used heavy machinery to dig barrier trenches and remove flammable underbrush from the fire’s path.

“We, collectively, were out there for a long time,” said Airman 1st Class Zane Standridge, fire prevention apprentice, 445th CES. “Once we were able to establish control lines and Guenther ran a handline, we got out ahead of it and finally could stop it from going further.”

The Reserve Citizen Airmen were working with the active duty fire department at Dyess as part of their two-week annual tour requirement. Guenther and Standridge were both on shift at the time, while the other four 445th members were off-duty but were then recalled to the fire station to provide support in battling the blaze.

“The cloud of smoke was visible all the way across the base,” Standridge said.

Both Guenther and Standridge work as firefighters for community departments when they are not in military status.

“In all, it took us about six hours to extinguish the fire, and then we continued to return to the site and monitor it for flare-ups for 24 hours,” Guenther said.

Weather conditions have exacerbated wildfires across the western half of the United States, and in Texas, the wind led to several flare-ups throughout the night and into the next day.

“At one point the flames reignited in the same area and it took us about 20 minutes to extinguish it again,” Standridge said.

The fire was officially declared extinguished the following evening, 26 hours after initially reported, and the base did not suffer any lasting damage.

A total of 12 firefighters from the 445th CES completed training at Dyess AFB Aug. 17-31 and Sept. 7-21, 2020. The annual live fire training consisted of using handlines and Aircraft Rescue Firefighting vehicles to successfully extinguish training fires resulting from a simulated large frame aircraft emergency.

Dyess AFB has one of the few existing fossil fuel (no propane) training pits left in existence. Fossil fuel, such as JP-8, fires are much more realistic and provide firefighters with better training scenarios.