Cold War Carnage
Burn site littered with rockets.
Thursday, November 6, 2003
Photo by Jane Morba: Still Packs a Punch: Army officials like Col. Jeff Cairns of the Presidio of Monterey (left) say that 50-year-old rockets found after the Fort Ord burn are still deadly.
As if to underscore a few hundred times the need for the controversial Oct. 24 prescribed burn on Fort Ord, Army officials invited the local press out to a scorched former range last week to see the debris.
Carpeting the blackened ground, poking out of it, and piled on top of the wind-swept, panoramic range above Seaside were what had to be hundreds and hundreds of Korean War-era 3.5 inch anti-tank bazooka rockets. With a cone-shaped warhead, a stem and fins, some were broken open, others were intact but it didn''t look like any had exploded.
With the thick brush burned off the hillside, fire crews inspecting the aftermath had just found this surprising tangle of expended rockets. Explosives experts were not sure what was still live ammunition, what had detonated and what were inert training rounds.
Brad Olson, an explosives removal contractor said, "We treat them all as live," and noted a 100-percent safety record with ordnance debris at Fort Ord. The ground was cordoned off and at least one news photographer was scolded for sticking his lens too far past the wire.
Although the fire did detonate some left-behind ordnance during what became a 1,470-acre fire--some 30 loud booms were counted during the blaze--a lot of the ammunition was not affected.
Presidio Commandant Col. Michael Simone, a Russian-speaking former artillery officer who is articulate about ammunition dynamics, said even mortar shells left over from World War I should still be considered lethal.
"Moving it is more dangerous than fire," he said.
Although it''s standard practice for the military to account for each and every piece of ammunition that''s expended in training, records of just what might be out in what''s known as the Multi-Range Area remain elusive. The find of hundreds of bazooka rockets was reportedly a surprise.
"We had no idea how many were in there," Simone said.
So far some $25 million has been spent cleaning up Ranges 43 to 48, considered the most dangerous of the old training areas, both because of the ordnance believed to be there and its proximity to Seaside neighborhoods.
At the burned-out range, a preliminary report provided by the prescribed burn contractor outlined causes and provided location for the fire''s escape from control measures. According to the report, the fire burned through retardant-treated firelines about an hour after the burn began.