This was a mission about quickness for the California Army National Guard’s 132nd Multirole Bridge Company.
First, there was the Pawnee Fire that erupted late June in Lake County, Calif., that scorched more than 15,000 acres. Then the Spring 2 Fire ignited a few days later, but that was extinguished after a modest 80 acres burned. Yet the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, stayed busy immediately as the County fire erupted in Napa and Yolo counties, and needed to move its assets quickly to fight the latest blaze.
“If we went left or right, it would have taken us several hours to get to the fight,” a CAL FIRE official stated. “But if we go up the middle, which we couldn’t at the time, we would be on site a lot faster. That’s why we called the Cal Guard. They helped us out a few years ago with the same thing.”
The California Army National Guard’s engineers quickly stepped forward. The Redding, Calif., unit constructed a 100-foot improved ribbon bridge in the same location as they did three years ago for another fire. The “go up the middle” effect allowed CAL FIRE and other California Office of Emergency assets to quickly move heavy equipment and personnel to the wildfire.
The County Fire consumed more than 90,000 acres as of mid-July. It was destined for worse until emergency services contained it. The 132nd’s efforts to build the bridge in a matter of hours contributed to the County Fire’s containment.
“The main thing is quickness,” said Jeremy Salizzoni, CAL FIRE captain and military liaison, in 2015 during a similar situation. “We can’t cut the fire off until all the lines are in. This bridge gives us faster access to the fire. We can get our bulldozers, equipment and people up there to fight it.”
Just as it did three years ago, the temporary bridge structure floated adjacent to a permanent concrete bridge that was deemed “zero tons,” according to Steve Sahs, a California Department of Transportation senior bridge engineer/inspector, in his 2015 observation. It’s passable for normal vehicles, but big, heavy equipment such as fire trucks and bulldozers aren’t permitted, Sahs explained.
Sahs said California has about 24,000 bridges. This bridge is one of about 10 in Cache Creek Regional Park.
“This has been closed since 2009 due to scour issues,” he said, noting the bridge was built in 1930. “You can see it’s old because it’s made with square rebar.”
The bridge was utilized for about a week, said 132nd’s Sgt. 1st Class Harley Ramirez. More than 650 vehicles and 1,200-plus personnel crossed it. Ramirez stationed his troops on a 24-hour safety watch. He credited the team for its productiveness, noting how quickly the bridge went up — and down — compared to three years ago.
“The water is a lot higher this year, along with a faster, moving current,” said Sgt. Dillon Graben, who was also part of the crew in 2015. “There were a lot of variables from the last time we did this.”
“We had issues working in the tight areas, but this gave us hands-on experience on what to do and not,” said Sgt. Ellie Ogsbury.
Making a difference
Three years ago the 132nd erected the bridge mainly for CAL FIRE to battle the Jerusalem and Rocky Fires in Lake County. The Rocky Fire (approximately 70,000 acres) was one of the largest blazes that year, second only to the Valley Fire (76,000 acres) that occurred nearby.
“This definitely opened our eyes. It let us know the importance of what we do,” added 132nd’s Spec. Aaron W. Parker. “It’s good to know what we did made a lot of difference.”
The 132nd was part of the California Army National Guard’s 49th Military Police Brigade’s units to be activated so far in 2018. The 270th Military Police Company assisted law enforcers during the Siskiyou Fire near the California-Oregon border. More than 500 Soldiers from the California Army National Guard’s 144th Field Artillery Battalion were training for ground operations by mid-July, one of the earliest call-ups for hand crews.
The County Fire, the key for the 132nd’s activation, destroyed 20 buildings and injured one. More than 450 emergency personnel responded, with the majority of them using the bridge the Soldiers had built.