American and Cuban forces worked together to contain a wildfire that caused landmines to explode around the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base Thursday, threatening the U.S. military outpost and forcing a huge evacuation of its 5,500 residents.
The mines, laid around the perimeter of the base decades ago by the Cuban military, exploded when a wildfire jumped the fence and threatened the residents and the 41 war-on-terror detainees housed there.
In a rare show of international cooperation, a Cuban helicopter dumped water on the U.S. military base to help stop the fire from spreading. Cuban security forces also “provided personnel and some trucks, so that was very, very helpful,” base spokeswoman Julie Ann Ripley told the Miami Herald. The fire was under control by 8 p.m. Thursday local time.
The 17-mile-wide strip of land separating the Guantánamo base from Cuban territory is known as the Cactus Curtain. Some 55,000 landmines were placed on the ground by U.S. and Cuban military, but in 1997 President Bill Clinton ordered the demining of the American portion of the field. The Cuban military has yet to follow suit.
The wildfires began Wednesday on the Cuban side and were initially under control, but shifting winds Thursday saw the blaze strengthen and forced the evacuation of six housing units on the base.
Throughout the day emergency services worked to stop the spread of the fire by building fire breaks to slow its progress.
By 8 p.m. local time Thursday night, base commander Captain Dave Culpepper announced that the fire was “contained on all fronts,” adding that the situation was safe enough to let evacuated troops and families return home.
The incident comes just days before a scheduled court hearing of five alleged conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Cover image: U.S. military guards walk within Camp Delta military-run prison, at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File from June 27, 2006)