CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Two weeks ago, this base went up like the Fourth of July, with 14 acres of supplies and trailer-sized shipping containers essentially burning to the ground in a spectacular fire.
As is common, rumors ran rampant for the next few days, eventually reaching families in the U.S. and combat outposts in locations like Marjah, where I was embedded at the time with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines.
Rumors were spread that the fuel farm at Leatherneck exploded. It didn’t, although there was one nearby the Supply Maintenance Unit that burned.
Rumors were spread that the dining hall burned down. It didn’t, although a dining facility – or DFAC, for short – was the equivalent of about one city block away.
Rumors were spread that the “Class 1” lot used to store food, water and other essential items caught fire. It didn’t, and Leatherneck never missed a beat with supplying items that are that essential.
Here’s what I do know: The wreckage of the Leatherneck fire is expansive, even two weeks later. The 14-acre estimate was no joke. When I arrived here Friday night, there were dozens, if not hundreds of burnt out shipping containers sitting vacant in the SMU, a sprawling facility that takes up the equivalent of several city blocks. No estimate for damages has been given, but conservatively, it must be millions of dollars.
Marine officials have not identified what started the fire, saying even now that it remains under investigation. Interest remains keen here about what happened, however, especially considering how big the fire was and that, aided by a sandstorm, it burned for about eight hours, from 6:45 p.m. May 16 to 3 a.m. the next morning.
Crews have begun to clear the wreckage, and a new supply lot is planned nearby. In the meantime, it’s worth considering ourselves lucky that there were no deaths or serious injuries and no significant changes to day-to-day life here.