Wildfires at Gitmo Force Evacuation of Some Housing Areas

In this photo taken Feb. 2, the entrance to Camp America is seen at US Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ben Fox)
In this photo taken Feb. 2, the entrance to Camp America is seen at US Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ben Fox)

MIAMI -- A wildfire that broke out on the Cuban side of Guantanamo Bay jumped the fence line Thursday, threatening U.S. Navy base buildings and forcing evacuations of four neighborhoods, including one where prison guards live.

"Right now, everyone is safe," base spokeswoman Julie Ann Ripley said Thursday afternoon. Base workers were "doing a full accountability report," a military term for checking rosters and counting heads.

Base security officials shut down the road leading to the Detention Center Zone, cutting off the main part of the outpost from the base within the base where the Pentagon holds 41 war-on-terror detainees.

Ripley said the fires started Wednesday and "came over from the Cuba side. It was originally under control and contained."

But shifting winds Thursday strengthened the fire, forcing evacuations of four base housing areas where some of the 5,500 people on base live in suburban-style housing -- Kittery Beach, Tierra Key, West Iguana and Caribbean Circle.

"You can't see the fire, but you can see a lot of smoke," American Civil Liberties Union attorney Denny LeBoeuf said by telephone soon after arriving on the base Thursday. Colleagues told LeBoeuf that overnight they heard explosions from across the 17.4-mile fence line -- possibly mines cooking off in the Cuban minefield.

Residents were advised to take shelter in either the base gym or the ballroom of the Windjammer restaurant complex.

The prison spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, known as the JTF, did not respond to an email seeking comment on the development -- which shut down a medical clinic for U.S. troops assigned to the 1,700-member prison staff.

"One of the things that occurred to me is, evacuating a high-security prison in the event of a hurricane is one thing," said LeBoeuf, an attorney for the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. "Evacuating people for a wildfire is really something else. And I wonder if JTF has a plan to evacuate Camp 7 and the other camps of imprisoned, locked down men in a hurry."

A notice to base residents advised: "Buses have been mobilized to assist with the evacuation. Please follow all directions of security personnel on scene."

The emergency occurred a week ahead of a planned session of the military commissions in the 9/11 mass murder case. War court staff members were advised Thursday afternoon that, as of that point, the war court compound called Camp Justice, and far from the prison zone, was not being impacted by the wildfires.


This article is written by Carol Rosenberg from Miami Herald and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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