Active-duty soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, Washington National Guardsmen and Air Force reservists from three bases have joined the fight against wildfires raging in the West.
With the approval of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the National Interagency Fire Center on Monday announced that 200 soldiers from Fort Lewis will mobilize as firefighters. It is the first time since 2006 the Defense Department has allowed the mobilization of active-duty members to serve as firefighters to assist NIFC.
The soldiers from the 17th Field Artillery Brigade of the 7th Infantry Division will organize into 10 crews of 20 persons each, and will all be sent to the same wildfire once they complete training, according to an Army release.
“The soldiers will be employed as firefighters until their mission is complete and they are no longer needed,” Army Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino told Army Times.
Starting Wednesday, wildland fire agency personnel, including an all military veteran group with the Bureau of Land Management of Vegas Valley, will train members at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the release said. Soldiers will train with personal protective equipment and additional gear they are set to use in the field. They will begin working against a wildfire Sunday.
Newly deployed Washington National Guard members are fighting fires in the Cougar Creek area in the southern part of the state. Two National Guard Black Hawk helicopters with about 100 guardsmen on Saturday joined 350 firefighters sweeping the area.
Four Air Force Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System C-130s are operating from McClellan Airfield in Sacramento, California. Two Reserve aircraft from the 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, were activated Aug. 3; the remaining aircraft, which joined the firefight Friday, come from the Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing, Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the 145th Airlift Wing, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Two California ANG aircraft from the 146th Airlift Wing, previously on the mission, returned to home station in Port Hueneme on Sunday, according to the wing's Facebook page.
The MAFFS and crew as of Aug. 12 had made 91 drops, discharging 219,705 gallons of retardant to aid in the suppression of fires in California, according to a release from the 302nd Airlift Wing.
“The fire season is peaking with active fires simultaneously spreading throughout many western states … stretching resources thin,” Lt. Col. Luke Thompson, 302nd Airlift Wing Chief of Aerial Fire Fighting, said in the release. While there may be “a long way to go,” Thompson said that feedback from the firefighters on the ground has been positive, and “in the air our planes and crews are doing great in the fight to save homes and property.”
Large fire activity has plagued at least eight states this summer; while more than 80 fires remain active across the country, states such as California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington have seen dozens.
More than 25,000 people are supporting wildfire relief effort, according to NIFC.