Kansas Air National Guard helps fight California fires

Left to right, Master Sgt. John Montgommery, Tech. Sgt. Clint Brown and Staff Sgt. Jennifer Erskin, imagery analysts,184th Incident Awareness and Assessment team, McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, view overhead images of areas north of Paradise, California, to observe fire lines and assess damage caused by Camp Fire, one of the largest wildfires in the state’s history. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

By Master Sgt. Matt McCoy, 184th Public Affairs

Kansas Air National Guardsmen assigned to the 184th Intelligence Wing at McConnell Air Force Base are helping fight fires in Northern California; one of the biggest and deadliest wildfires in the state’s history.

“California can normally handle the wildfires that happen out there,” said 1st Lt. Brandon Devader, officer in charge, 184th IAA, “but with this one, they’re overwhelmed because it’s one of the largest they’ve ever seen.”

The 184th Incident Awareness and Assessment team was brought in on Nov. 14 to man the Unclassified Processing Analysis Dissemination center. Their primary mission was to observe the fires north of Paradise providing timely information to ground crews.  This information was critical for personnel safety and fire containment efforts.

“We’ll look at the imagery and determine what direction the fire lines are moving,” said Devader. “We’re also providing updated wind data. That way, they can keep up on where the fire is.”

1st Lt. Brandon Devader, officer in charge, 184th Incident Awareness and Assessment team, McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, updates leaders and decision makers on the current operations in support of the wildfire containment efforts from Camp Fire in Northern California, Nov. 16. Devader’s team of Imagery Analysts are observing fire lines, assessing damage, and updating authorities in the affected area. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

Their secondary mission was damage assessment, using overhead imagery from the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s website.

“We’re looking at what commercial and residential properties are destroyed,” said Devader. “That way, they can keep the California Fire Environmental Assessments website updated with the most accurate information.”

Imagery analysts compared overhead images from before the with aftermath imagery and determine which structures were destroyed.

The 184th IW team was one of three teams providing imagery analysis for Camp Fire.  The military training requirements of imagery analysts are perfect for domestic operations. Earlier this year, 184th analysts assisted with search and rescue operations for the Florida hurricanes. During disaster operations, imagery analysists observe on-site conditions and relay critical information to decision makers and emergency response teams.

“They’re really good at analyzing information to make those accurate assessments,” said Devader. “That’s what they do. This is right up their alley.”

Master Sgt. John Montgommery, imagery analyst, 184th Incident Awareness and Assessment team, McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, assesses damage caused by Camp Fire, a deadly wildfire that tore through Northern California in November. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt.