Twenty-two employees from Los Padres National Forest have been called upon in an increasing effort to recover debris from the lost space shuttle, Columbia.

Over 70 emergency crews from across the nation are now scanning the massive debris field, which is currently estimated to be 25 miles wide and over 300 miles long. The LPNF crew has been working fulltime since being dispatched on Feb. 22 and will continue to assist for up to 30 days. Emergency crews are an integral part of LPNF and are specifically designed to assist in national emergency efforts.

“The U.S. Forest Service works in conjunction with the federal government and can respond to various types of emergencies and natural disasters,” LPNF spokesman Joe Pasinato said. “In this particular case, rather than combating or working on a fire, they’re going to be basically walking a line looking for debris from the shuttle.”

Pieces from the shuttle’s left wing – which showed unusual heat spikes moments before the disaster – are the most sought after. The search for its parts continues in the western U.S., although no debris has currently been found west of Texas. Reports of a loud crash on the day of the accident, however, have led several crews to New Mexico, where the search for pieces of the shuttle is ongoing.

Crews assisting in the recovery effort are given assignments directly from NASA, as obtaining fallen debris from the ill-fated shuttle is the first step in determining the cause of the accident. The Los Padres crew itself has been assigned a two square mile area of land in a location that is currently classified. If debris is located, its location will be carefully marked and reported to NASA.

Los Padres teams also provide assistance on a global level and are currently assisting Australia in an effort to help manage several out-of-control wildfires. Crews themselves are maintained by LPNF and are capable of being utilized in a variety of scenarios. Determining when and where assistance is needed is a coordinated effort that exists on both a state and national level.

“It’s a very cooperative effort between county, city and national organizations,” spokeswoman Juanita Freel said. “Different classes of teams – some more highly specialized than others – are ready to respond.”

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