• Kyodo

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A brush fire at the U.S. military’s Camp Hansen in Okinawa burned for 41 hours before it was put out Wednesday morning, the U.S. Marine Corps in Japan said.

The U.S. Marines said the fire started when an unexploded ordnance spontaneously ignited, adding that the cause of the ignition is being investigated.

There were no casualties or property damage as a result of the fire, it said.

“Explosive Ordnance personnel were conducting a routine search and disposal of unexploded ordinance at the time” the fire started, the marines said in a press release.

There was no live fire training on the ranges at the time of the incident, it said.

Okinawa Prefecture urged the marines to take measures to prevent any future incidents and to improve its firefighting methods, claiming the fire damaged the natural environment, caused anxiety to nearby residents and led to mistrust of the marines’ safety management.

Tsuyoshi Gibu, mayor of the town of Kin where the camp is located, also complained that the U.S. military initially used only one helicopter to try to contain the fire, saying more helicopters should have been dispatched earlier to put out the fire.

The marines said two choppers and four firetrucks worked with range control personnel to extinguish the fire.

The Defense Agency’s Naha Defense Facilities Administration Bureau said it received notification from the U.S. military Tuesday night that about 400 hectares had been burned but revised the figure to approximately 180 hectares Wednesday.

Both numbers were said to be based on visual calculations, the bureau said.

The marines press release said the fire covered an area of 150 hectares.

The affected area is several hundred meters from the nearest residential area.

Used for live-ammunition and bomb-explosion training, Camp Hansen has experienced several bush fires in the past, including September 1997, when about 300 hectares burned.

Yokota command stays

The United States will reduce the number of personnel to be relocated from its Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo and maintain command functions at the facility, according to diplomatic sources.

The U.S. military will relocate 20 people from the 240-member 5th Air Force command center at Yokota to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii as early as May, the sources said. Under the earlier proposed arrangement, about 170 people were to be relocated and the original destination was Guam.

The air defense command of the Air Self-Defense Force will move to Yokota from Fuchu in western Tokyo, making it a joint-use facility of the two countries, they said.

Civilian aircraft will probably be allowed to use the base, they said.

The Japanese and U.S. governments have confirmed the overall realignment plans for Yokota base through negotiations, including talks held by senior officials in Washington on March 15, they said.

While the Yokota command will stay, the base’s importance in terms of Pacific region air defenses might be reduced; the U.S. military also plans to set up new command centers in Hawaii and South Korea.

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