National Fire Managers In Boise Call On Military To Help Fight Wildfires

Aug 17, 2015

Hand crews on Idaho's West Scriver Fire are seen here adding fuel to a burned out tree. Their goal is to help it burn more quickly so it can fall to the ground safely inside the fire perimeter.
Credit Boise National Forest/USFS

The National Interagency Fire Center is calling on 200 active-duty military troops to help fight roughly 95 wildfires burning across the West.

Officials with the Boise-based agency made the announcement Monday. The troops will begin training Wednesday and are expected to be ready for action Sunday. They will be mobilized for a month. NIFC officials say previous call-ups have included more soldiers, but that the smaller force will be ready sooner. 

This is the first time NIFC has mobilized active duty military members for fire suppression efforts since 2006.

Ken Frederick is a spokesman with NIFC. 

“We are dealing with a lot of wildfires,” he says. “We are dealing with really difficult fire weather conditions. And we’re seeing fires start and spread quickly, and it’s overwhelming our ability to normally fight these fires.”  

The Army soldiers are stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. They’ll be divided into 10 crews with 20 people each, and will work on the same fire. NIFC managers haven't decided which fire that will be yet, but more than 1700 square miles combined are burning in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada and Colorado.

Several states have already mobilized National Guard personnel and helicopters to help suppress the fires.

Frederick says fire managers are even looking overseas for additional resources.

“We’re also starting conversations with Australia and New Zealand to see if we can get some managerial help,” he says. “Those are the mid-level fire line managers, people with supervisory skill with experience in understanding fire behavior.” 

The extreme fire behavior of the last week or so has depleted the nation’s available equipment and personnel. Frederick says all 41 of the government’s incident command teams were assigned to fires on Monday.

Priorities for firefighters continue to be protecting life and property. But the lack of resources means fire managers are having to change the way they attack fires.

“And you formulate your strategy, you select your objectives, and you go to work based on your capabilities,” Frederick says, “what you can do safely and effectively. And that’s what you do going forward. You play the hand that’s dealt you.”

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