US Army Sends Soldiers to Battle Western Wildfires

August 6, 2018 Last Updated: August 6, 2018

The U.S. Army is deploying 200 troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, to help fight wildfires raging across the Western states.

Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Robert Manning III announced on Aug. 6, that the 200 soldiers would be split into 10 teams of 20 and assigned to fight a single fire.

The army is already pitching in to fight fires in California, Col. Manning told the press. “Currently, four military C-130 [Hercules aircraft] equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems are serving as large air tankers and are operating from Sacramento’s McClellan Airport in California,” he announced. 

He added that an RC-26 Metroliner aircraft based in Spokane, Washington, was helping the Forest Service to detect and monitor wildfires in the Western states.

The troops will be trained and deployed to assist civilian firefighters at the request of the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho.

Already, thousands of National Guardsmen are actively assisting in fire-fighting efforts in several states, including Oregon, California, and Washington.

Oregon Army National Guardsmen fight the Garner Complex Fire with firefighters from the Oregon Department of Forestry north of Grants Pass, Oregon on Aug. 2, 2018. (Maj. John Farmer/Oregon Army National Guard)
Oregon Army National Guardsmen fight the Garner Complex Fire with firefighters from the Oregon Department of Forestry north of Grants Pass, Oregon on Aug. 2, 2018. (Maj. John Farmer/Oregon Army National Guard)

Unusual Amount of Wildfire Activity

The NIFC reported that more than 134 wildfires were actively burning on some 1.6 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, and Alaska.

Trees burn in the Carr Fire west of Redding, California on July 30, 2018. (Terray Sylvester/Getty Images)
Trees burn in the Carr Fire west of Redding, California on July 30, 2018. (Terray Sylvester/Getty Images)

“Weather and fuel conditions are predicted to continue being conducive to wildfire ignitions and spread in most of the western U.S. for the next several weeks,” the Center stated in an Aug. 6 press release.

“We are committed to continuing to do everything we can to provide the firefighters, aircraft, engines, and other wildfire suppression assets that Incident Commanders need to protect lives, property, and valuable natural and cultural resources,” said Dan Smith, Chair of National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) at NIFC.

Firefighter Derek Longoria, of CalFire's Shasta-Trinity Unit, extinguishes flames near State Highway 299 while battling the Carr Fire near Redding, California on July 30, 2018. (Terray Sylvester/Getty Images)
Firefighter Derek Longoria, of CalFire’s Shasta-Trinity Unit, extinguishes flames near State Highway 299 while battling the Carr Fire near Redding, California on July 30, 2018. (Terray Sylvester/Getty Images)

In the release, NIFC explained that the soldiers would be outfitted with wildland fire Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and whatever other gear they might need to serve as wildland firefighters. On the ground, they would be supervised directly by experience civilian wildland firefighting strike-team leaders.

Further, the soldiers would receive an intensive, three-day training program while at their base near Tacoma, Washington. Much of the training will focus on firefighter safety, and how to be aware of developing dangerous situations.

According to NIFC, troops are expected to be on the ground and fighting a fire by Monday, Aug. 13.

Jay Karle, center right, a crew boss assigned to assist Soldiers of 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade, trains soldiers in wildfire-fighting near Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Aug. 20, 2015. (Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Porch/U.S. Army 28th Public Affairs Detachment)
Jay Karle, center right, a crew boss assigned to assist Soldiers of 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade, trains soldiers in wildfire-fighting near Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Aug. 20, 2015. (Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Porch/U.S. Army 28th Public Affairs Detachment)

NIFC notes that the Army has been an important partner in wildfire containment for decades, providing both personnel and equipment.

Since 1987, U.S. Army personnel have been trained and deployed as firefighters 37 times. The latest instance was in Sept. 2017, when 200 soldiers were called out to assist with the North Umpqua Complex wildfires in Oregon.

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