Menendez, Lautenberg Meet With Air National Guard, NJ National Guard About Pineland's Fire

Menendez, Lautenberg Meet With Air National Guard, NJ National Guard About Pineland's Fire

After call for accountability, Generals meet with Senators to discuss safety, operations, training at Warren Grove gunnery range

Washington - U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) today met with leaders of the Air National Guard and the New Jersey National Guard to discuss the forest fire in South Jersey last week that destroyed thousands of acres of the Pine Barrens. The fire -- which burned more than 17,000 acres and displaced thousands of residents -- began when a flare was dropped by a New Jersey Air National Guard F-16 jet on a training mission.

"Public safety is our first and foremost concern. We have to determine if the military training mission of the Warren Grove range can be reconciled with the safety of New Jersey residents. I eagerly await the Guard's thorough review and recommendations to make sure that threats to public safety can be eliminated. I appreciate the cooperation of the Generals, and I look forward to continuing to work with them on this important issue," said Sen. Menendez.

"We are all determined to improve safety and training at the gunnery range," said Lautenberg. "We need an investigation that yields real results - the community must be assured that there will be specific changes to prevent mishaps in the future. The Guard's investigation must yield a plan of action to allow the community to feel safer and include input of local residents. The Guard understands the serious concerns of the community and I am confident that they will make real changes."

Sen. Menendez visited Barnegat, New Jersey last week to view the damage caused by the fire and speak with residents in the area.

Last week, Sen. Lautenberg wrote to the Air Force and the Air National Guard urgently seeking a meeting to discuss the fire and plans to improve safety and operations at the range. In response, General Sid Clarke, Deputy Director of the Air National Guard and Adjutant General Glen Rieth, Commander of the New Jersey National Guard, were in Washington today to meet with the Senators.

Last week's fire was the latest in a string of incidents near the Warren Grove range:

In April 1999, a Pennsylvania National Guard A-10 jet aiming for the range instead dropped a dummy bomb a mile off-target over the Pinelands in Burlington County, touching off a fire that burned 12,000 acres and lasted four days.

In June 2001, another errant bomb dropped by an F-16 caused a fire that scorched 1,600 acres when the pilot missed a target area that had been cleared of trees and brush.

In January 2002, an F-16 crashed near the Garden State Parkway -- the third such crash at the range since 1992.

And in November 2004, the most notorious accident occurred when an F-16 mistakenly shot up an elementary school when the pilot applied too much pressure on the trigger. That caused the plane to fire 25 rounds from its artillery cannon instead of simply activating a targeting laser beam as he had intended. Fortunately, the school was empty aside from a custodian, and no one was injured.

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