By Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
KAENA POINT, Hawaii — Not long after the 50th Space Wing and the Colorado Springs community endured the Waldo Canyon fire, another wing unit across the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii fought another fire; they are also experiencing the same drought condition as the continental United States.
Security forces patrolling the Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station detected initial burn and flare ups at 3:30 a.m. July 14 at the entry control point. Thus began an ordeal for the firefighters and the 21st Space Operations Squadron Detachment 3.
Fire department officials estimated the fire to have grown between 400 and 500 acres. According to initial investigations, the fire appears to have started in a park area used by beachgoers and campers.
“At the bottom [of the hill], the fire burned to within 10 feet of the entry control point, but firefighting efforts contained the fire just across the road,” said Maj. George Sanderlin, 21 SOPS Det. 3 commander. “On the top of the hill, the fire burned to within approximately 250 feet of at least three facilities and burned along the access road in multiple areas.”
As the fire grew, it blocked several areas of the access road up to Kaena Point. The road had to be closed for firefighting efforts and personnel safety, just before a normal shift change. Some personnel were not able to be relieved after their normal eight-hour shift.
“Eight government civilian and contractor personnel remained at their posts for an additional six hours after their normal shift change,” Sanderlin said. “They maintained their composure during the fire and ensured the Air Force Satellite Control Network and GPS mission continued.”
Though the fire approached several manned facilities at Kaena Point, firefighting efforts ensured no personnel or facilities were directly threatened by the fire.
Firefighters with the Honolulu Fire Department and Federal Fire Department, which included government civilians as well as Navy and Air Force personnel, responded to the firefighting effort. Personnel with the 21 SOPS Det. 3 assisted by providing access for firefighting on top of the hill and at controlled and restricted areas as needed. They also provided the helicopter pad for use, ensured 100 percent personnel accountability and coordinated with the incident commander.
Additionally, the 647th Security Forces Squadron from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam provided an entry control point and safety patrols to locate all Kaena point personnel on site, as well as maintaining security.
“Thanks to the vigilance and proactive measures taken by Hula personnel and fantastic support from the local emergency responders. This fire was successfully contained without damaging site facilities or even impacting AFSCN or GPS operations,” said Lt. Col. Michael Wulfestieg, 21 SOPS commander. “Hats-off to the operations crews who kept their composure during their extended shift, focusing on the mission while the firefighters conquered the blaze and restored access to the site for their relief.”
Sanderlin echoed the same sentiment and said the Hula team demonstrated professionalism and diligence during this challenging event.
“They provided critical support to first responders while ensuring the AFSCN and GPS missions continued without missing a beat,” he said. “I also commend both the federal and local firefighters for their courage and action. Their outstanding efforts ensured no Kaena point facilities were lost or damaged and no personnel were injured.”