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Airman saves more than 200 lives during California wildfires

Two firefighters walk through a charred landscape holding axes.

9th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters observe a wildfire on Beale Air Force Base, California, May 29, 2020. The tools they carried were used for cutting line, which they had just practiced. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Jason W. Cochran)

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio --

Ohio Guardsmen answer when called upon, whether operations are domestic or overseas. An Ohio National Guard sensor operator answered California’s call during the recent wildfire crisis. With little notice, Senior Airman Andrew volunteered for emergency state active duty orders to provide fire relief.

Andrew arrived at March Air Reserve Base Aug. 30, 2020 and continued fighting fires until Sept. 27, 2020. He worked with service members from different states and career fields to push back against encroaching flames.

“There were several days where ash from the El Dorado fire was falling on us and fire was visible on the nearby mountainsides,” said Andrew. “It was a very ominous feeling. From the air, once we were above the clouds and smoke, it looked like an orange blanket had been placed over California for miles. Using infrared technology, we could look through the smoke and see fires raging down below, which looked like huge chunks of land filled with lava. While I was there, we had over 28 active wildfires burning all across the state. With over four million acres currently burned, devastation would be an understatement.”

Service members worked together to save the lives and land affected by the furious fires.

“While working with the 163rd Attack Wing we conducted multiple missions, including fire line mapping, search and rescue, firefighter over watch, structural damage assessments, structure defense, spot fire searches, providing imagery and live video feed to firefighters, assistance with air to ground fire suppression efforts, and fire information (speed, growth rate, and size),” said Andrew.

During Andrew’s time in California, he saved 214 people who were surrounded by fire with no means of escape. He also saved a large group of firefighters unknowingly in the path of a rapidly expanding fire line and re-directed them to a safe escape route. Additionally, he found a brand new wildfire moments after it began and provided support that led to a timely, 100% containment. His life-saving achievements highlight Ohio National Guardsmen’s dedication to readiness when their communities need them.

“You get an immense amount of pride being part of something like this,” said Andrew. “Seeing the extremely dangerous work the firefighters are doing on the ground, and getting to be a part of keeping them and the public safe, is truly an honor.”

Although the fires still smoldered after Andrew left, he made a lasting impact on the lives he saved and the service members he worked with.

“Leaving was bitter sweet,” said Andrew. “I got to become part of the 163rd family, and we did some incredible things together. Leaving such an amazing mission that still wasn’t complete was difficult, but I know it was left in good hands. I was proud of the work I did, and left knowing that I made an impact.”