Napa Valley Fires

Studio 2G Principal Heidi Gibson was called away from her architectural duties to join the Air National Guard team in supporting CAL FIRE battle deadly wildfires throughout Northern California.

The 163rd Attack Wing assisted firefighters by deploying two MQ-9s, the remotely piloted aircraft, over the perimeter of the areas ravaged by fires so they could compare how and where the fire was spreading. The two aircraft monitored six different fires, mapping the contours of the disaster areas.

They also sent out their MEOC (Mobile Emergency Operation Center) to provide cellular service to the disaster zones so that civilians could notify their families that they were safe. 

Heidi was involved with the Joint Force for Logistics.  She was the J4 Deputy in charge of managing resources for the California Air and Army National Guard. The J-4 division integrates logistics planning and execution in support of joint operations such as this, where the military assisted Cal Fire while working along side entities such as CalTrans and FEMA.

The military not only supplied MQ9 support but also security to the areas against looters, mobile evacuation centers for the evacuees and fire support which included tent cities, generators, and showers. There were over 2,000 military members called up to support the fight against the spread of the fires.

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A Mobile Emergency Operations Center is set up at Napa Valley College in Napa, California, to provide communications support to victims of the Northern California fires. The MEOC provided wireless internet access and cell phone network for evacuees who took up shelter in the college gymnasium after a series of fires burned across California's wine country. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Hideyoshi Izumi)

We asked Heidi about her experiences after her deployment to the fire ravaged area.

2G: Can you describe the environment you were in? How did weather and air quality factor in to your days there?

Heidi: I worked out of the California Military Department Joint Forces Headquarters up in Sacramento.  I was the J4 Deputy which covers logistics.  Therefore, food, lodging, equipment, etc. for all the military forces supporting the fires.

Have you had prior experiences dealing with disaster response during your tenure in the Air National Guard?

H: Yes, we have been activated within the last 5 years to support the Yosemite Fires, San Diego fires, snow removal in the Sierra’s, and the Delta flooding when the levees along the Sacramento Delta were breached.

2G: Did any of your tasks involve assisting local residents? How was the Guard perceived in the community you were placed in?

H: We were involved in supporting cellular service to the residents effected by the cell towers being down.  The Napa task force site had many wineries supply food for the military; plenty of wine and cheese plates. Guy Fieri came out to support and cooked for troops!  The residents were amazed that the military had so much involvement with local emergencies.  

2G: What other experiences can you tell us about?

H: I visited the Cal OES operation center.  It was amazing as to all the entities involved--Cal Fire, Cal Trans, CHP, FEMA, Homeland Security, Air National Guard, Army National Guard, and the Finance Department all working together.