NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND, Calif. (NNS) -- More than 600 military family members found shelter on Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI) Oct. 23, after raging wildfires in the greater Southern California area burned an estimated 200,000 acres, destroying more than 1,000 homes and displacing more than 300,000 San Diego County residents.
As Navy housing areas evacuated, Rear Adm. Len Hering, Commander, Naval Region Southwest (CNRSW) opened San Diego Navy installations to Navy families in their time of need. NASNI opened its gates Oct. 22, providing the large warehouse gym as a relief station, and also provided the families with food and toiletries.
After hearing of the fires Oct. 22, the gym staff was proactive, making bedding and food available even before the call for mass evacuations, said Bobby Estrada, the NASNI base gym sport's program director.
The warehouse gym provided over 400 beds and supplies for families. NASNI was also opening up another gymnasium, which could provide space for 200-300 more families. In addition, Sailors living on NASNI in barracks moved back aboard their assigned ships, offering their rooms to the displaced families.
Military families arrived at all hours of the night, often with just the clothes on their backs. Estrada and other base personnel provided them with essentials to get them through this tough period.
"The Navy Exchange did a great job supplying us with food and other supplies," said Estrada. "They really helped out when we were in a pinch."
Donations included everything from toiletries to coloring books for children. With hundreds of families living temporarily on base, NASNI staff provided entertainment to keep the families minds off the crisis. The base theater opened, playing children's movies all day, while gym staff set up televisions so people could stay up to date on the news.
Region SW bases remain open to all military personnel and their families during the crisis, but only key and essential personnel are required to report for work.
Sailors from USS Ronald Reagan (USS 76), USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and NASNI tenant commands answered the call to volunteer. Seventy-two Ronald Reagan Sailors received training from the American Red Cross on emergency shelter management, and the ship provided more than 80 volunteers to the Navy relief effort.
"We're all in this together in this time of crisis," said Capt. Terry Kraft. "Our Sailors want to help, and we're eager to be a part of this greater Navy effort."
"The North Island and Naval Amphibious Base community really came together," said Estrada. "I just asked people walking down the street and they would say, 'Sure, we could help you out.'"
For more news around the fleet, visit www.www.navy.mil/local/cvn76/.