2002 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 23 Jun 2002 18:02:15 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Ft. Wingate Fires and UXO
attribution: a usually reliable source within the federal government.

Local Firefighters Will Refuse Further Response
To Wildfires Located on Zuni Portion of Ft. Wingate

A federal firefighting plan for Ft. Wingate, N.M. fell apart when local 
firefighters,  citing concern over possible buried or unexploded
ordnance,  said they would no longer enter the former Army ordnance
depot to provide the  first attack on wildfires at the facility. 

Local firefighters left a meeting at mid-day June 20th in Gallup, NM
held by  the Dept of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management. The
meeting continued  without them.

The Ft. Wingate fire dept had responded in early June to a wildfire on
land  sparked by lightning at the former  military ordnance depot. The
Ft. Wingate  volunteer firefighters were the first on the scene and
successfully prevented  the destruction of one of the most pristine,
untouched portions of public  land left in the US. The land is intended
by the BIA to go to the Zuni  Pueblo.

However, the Ft Wingate fire dept now says it will not return to fight
fires  on Ft. Wingate, leaving the only immediate response the
relatively  ineffective one of dropping fire retardents by aircraft. 
Firefighting  specialists said that reliance on aerial fire retardants
at Ft. Wingate would  not have extinguished the blaze in early June.

The local fire chief said he believes that not enough is known about
past  military activity on the land in question. He did not know until
the meeting,  for example, that a smoke grenade had been found earlier
in a dried-up pond  on the parcel of land (parcel no. 1) where the fire
took place.  

Firefighters said that they were concerned that even small ordnance
devices  such as M-16 blanks, smoke grenades, and other infantry combat
simulation  devices pose a significant threat once a wildfire is
present.  For example, a  firefighting specialist said that such devices
could detonate and directly  injure firefighters as they use tools such
as shovels. The specialist also  said that small ordnance simulators, as
well as real unexploded ordnance,  could detonate due to the wildfire's
heat and start secondary fires in places  not anticipated by the
firefighting teams, thus making it impossible for the  firefighters to
follow their own strict safety guidelines requiring a secure  and
certain path of retreat from the flames.

The Army, which is responsible for cleaning up Ft. Wingate before 
transferring parcels of land to Interior, has provided archival
information  about the likely or unlikely presence of ordnance
throughout the former  depot. No sampling, magnetometry or other UXO
characterization activities  were performed, the Army said, because such
measures were deemed unnecessary.

The firefighters were not present in the meeting's afternoon session
when it  was revealed that teams of Zuni and Navajo personnel had walked
the parcel in  question as part of an extensive cultural resource
survey. The cultural  resource survey teams  walked shoulder to shoulder
and looked for surface  evidence of ancient and historic land use such
as pot shards, or other small  bits of metal or stone showing historic
use of the land.  No ordnance was  found during these sweeps, it was reported.

Nevertheless, a firefighting specialist said later that a surface sweep
by  eye of "every square foot" would not necessarily show buried caches
of  infantry simulators such as blanks or smoke grenades, any one of
which could  start a secondary fire behind a line of firefighters, thus
cutting off their  escape.

The firefighters at the meeting, some of whom were Army veterans, said 
privately that in any event they did not feel "comfortable" relying on
the  Army's information.

This development could signal a national problem of staggering
proportions.  Millions of acres of public land may contain unexploded
ordnance from former  military training activities.  Firefighters need
to know the risks.  

Can they rely on the Defense Dept. to provide accurate information on
those  risks?

Should firefighters refuse to enter former military bases or training 
facilities on public land?

What would the impact of such a policy be? How many millions of acres of
 public land are involved?

What effect should this development have on UXO policy at DoD?



Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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