FALLUJAH, Iraq --
FALLUJAH, Iraq (July 1, 2008) – Marines with Company L, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat team 1 and Iraqi firemen with the Fallujah Fire Department teamed up to battle a fire that destroyed structures at Entry Control Point-5 (ECP-5) June 25.
The ECP controls traffic and safeguards entryways into the city of Fallujah.
No one was injured and the cause of the fire is under investigation, but it is suspected to have started from a faulty light fixture, said 1st Lt. Travis Bowden, the company’s executive officer, who was on duty as the watch officer when a Marine alerted him that one of the wooden structures at the ECP was engulfed in flames.
“I contacted the battalion and they called the Fallujah Fire Department,” Bowden said. “They got on deck and started using their water trucks and everything they had.”
Marines said although the Iraqi firemen responded incredibly fast, nearly seven huts were already burning when they arrived. The first firemen to arrive fought the blaze with water cannons until they ran empty and Marines used every extinguisher available on post.
“The (Iraqi firemen) had maybe three or four trucks doing runs for about two hours trying to get all the water they had on the fire,” Bowden said. “Both Marines and the firefighters were on the hoses trying to get the flames down. Once that first hut went up (in flames), it was too much for any number of fire extinguishers to handle,” Bowden said.
Gunnery Sgt. Jason Armistead, Company L gunnery sergeant, described how quickly the fire took over every structure while he and others attempted to fight it.
“We got about twenty fire extinguishers and (the fire) just kept spreading too fast,” Armistead said. “So then we grabbed some axes. About seven or eight of us were trying to chop down the side of a hooch (wooden hut) trying to keep it away from the other ones. The fire kept jumping from hooch to hooch and it was starting to go around us.”
At that point, Armistead told the Marines to get all of their personal gear from each hut that they could salvage, but because of the fire’s rapid growth, few items were saved.
Lance Cpl. Kyle Van Beekom, a heavy equipment operator with Combat Engineers Battalion, attached to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, without regard for his own safety, drove a forklift to the fire, and removed gasoline-fueled generators, a 200-gallon gas tank and moved the wooden buildings away from the flames to prevent it from spreading.
“The hooch we were trying to take an axe to; he (Beekom) rammed it about four or five times,” Armistead said. “He drove the (forklift) completely into the fire, trying to keep it pushed back and he kept the fire from jumping. Of course all of the hooches burned down, but that enabled us to get more gear out.”
More than 90 Marines lost everything they owned, including personal possessions and issued equipment. The company immediately adjusted to logistical setbacks, living arrangements and daily operations continued seamlessly, Bowden said.
Although the fire created a setback for the Marines, there was a silver lining- the generosity from Iraqis and stateside supporters.
Bowden said in this case, the assistance role was reversed. After the fire, Iraqis helped clear the debris with dump trucks and others came to offer building materials. A nearby ice factory owner delivered ice and food to the Marines.
“It’s definitely different,” Bowden said. “It just shows a lot of progress we’ve made in helping them out so much that they’re willing to reciprocate that now. They’re lending us a hand when we’re down and out so that we can recover.”
Bowden added that stateside supporters have been in constant contact with the battalion, inquiring how to help the Marines.
“Stateside (support) has been extraordinary,” Bowden said. “I don’t know how many emails and letters we’ve received. It’s just an outpouring of everyone trying to give a little bit. It has been overwhelming.”
Armistead described how the company is adjusting in the aftermath.
“Collectively, we all know it’s a bad situation, but no one’s complaining,” Armistead said. “We’re just doing what we need to do to continue on with the mission. We’re just accepting the fact that we’ve got to live on. The battalion is doing a good job of getting the military gear back that we lost. The response from the other units around us and the people back home has just been unreal. They gave us necessities so we could get by.”
Bowden added that the Marines are enduring the loss and looking ahead.
“It has been tough on the Marines, but at the same time, it’s showing us how to be flexible,” Bowden said. “The good thing is that we were able keep up with operations we already had in place. We still accomplished everything that was planned before and we’re still right on track and moving forward. I just think the Marines did really well by being flexible and adaptable. They’re taking the situation, as bad as it is, and continuing on with (Iraq’s reconstruction) effort.”