SUNBURY — A Marine with local ties was part of efforts to contain the wildfires that ravaged Southern California in recent weeks and remain under investigation.
Sgt. Carmen Zangari, 27, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., was part of an air unit making water drops to help contain an 800-acre wildfire burning near San Diego. Zangari is a 2005 graduate of Shikellamy High School and a native of Sunbury.
The unit, the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, was manning Ch-46 Sea Knight helicopters — also known as “Phrogs” — that can drop up to 900 gallons of water on the fires, according to NBC’s San Diego affiliate.“We have a fire bucket and it is mounted to the underside of the helicopter,” Zangari said. “It is basically a means of picking up water and carrying it onto the flames.”
Zangari said he was “anxious and excited” to help fight the fires.
Southern California prepares for wildfires, but was overwhelmed by the power of the recent blazes, Zangari said. “It is a very dry, hot climate — very dry — so the possibility for wildfires is real, all the potential is there,” he said. “There’s definitely preparedness, but to have it be as big as it was. ... It was overwhelming.”
The crews worked with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to conduct the drops.
The fires are mostly contained and residents are now dealing with the aftermath of the blazes, which hit an area dealing with severe drought. According to a report by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., 14 fires burned more than 27,000 acres and destroyed or damaged more than 60 structures.
Feinstein thanked the Marines, firefighters and other first-responders Monday.
“This has been a very difficult week for San Diego County,” she said. “Your efforts are greatly appreciated.”
Zangari, who’s completed a deployment to Iraq and training at numerous bases including Parris Island, the Naval Air Station in Pensacola and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, said he’s not sure whether he’ll return to the Valley, but that it will remain a special place to him.
“Growing up in that area, it’s always going to have meaning to me,” he said.