Sept. 5, 2017 – The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho is mobilizing active duty military personnel to serve as firefighters to assist with wildfire suppression efforts. Currently, more than 80 large wildfires are burning on about 1.4 million acres in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming with nearly 28,000 firefighters and support personnel working on them. The National Preparedness Level is currently at 5, the highest level, indicating a high level of wildfire activity and a high level of commitment of wildfire suppression assets (i.e. firefighters, aircraft, and engines) to wildfires. Weather and fuel conditions are predicted to continue to be conducive to wildfire ignitions and spread in most of the western U.S. through September and in parts of the Northern Rockies and California through October.
The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) at NIFC requested the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide 200 active duty military personnel to assist with firefighting efforts. The DoD has approved the request and identified the 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team (23rd Brigade Engineer Battalion and 1st Battalion 23rd Infantry Regiment), 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Washington to provide the active duty military personnel. The Soldiers will be organized into ten crews of 20 persons each, all of which will be sent to the Umpqua North Complex which is burning on approximately 30,000 acres on the Umpqua National Forest, approximately 50 miles east of Roseburg, Oregon.
“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 Buckley, Chair of NMAC. “The U.S. military is a key partner in wildland firefighting and we greatly appreciate their willingness to provide us with Soldiers to serve as firefighters as well as aircraft to help with wildfire suppression efforts.”
The Soldiers will be outfitted with wildland fire Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and all of the gear they will need to serve as wildland firefighters. They will be trained by wildland fire agency personnel at JBLM beginning tomorrow (Wednesday, September 6th). The training is expected to conclude by Saturday, September 9th, and the Soldiers are expected to begin working on a wildfire on Sunday, September 10th. While working on a wildfire, the Soldiers will be accompanied by experienced wildland fire strike team leaders and crew bosses from wildland fire management agencies.
The training will consist of one day of classroom training at JBLM and two days of field training when the Soldiers reach the wildfire that they will be assigned to. During classroom training, Soldiers will learn about a variety of topics related to wildfire suppression including fire terminology, fire behavior, and fireline safety. During field training, Soldiers will receive instruction in fire suppression methods and procedures, including Watch Out Situations and Standard Firefighting Orders; Personal Protective Equipment; and use, transportation, and maintenance of wildfire suppression tools.
The U.S. military has been a key partner in wildland firefighting for over a century, providing personnel to serve as wildland firefighters and aircraft. Three C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) are currently mobilized to serve as large airtankers and are operating from Fresno, California. Two military RC-26 aircraft are also currently mobilized to augment U.S. Forest Service aircraft capability to detect and map wildfires in the western states and are operating from Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington and Redding Municipal Airport in Redding, California.
Since 1987, active duty military personnel have been mobilized to serve as wildland firefighters a total of 36 times. The last time that active duty military personnel were mobilized to serve as wildland firefighters was in August, 2015 when 200 soldiers from the 17th Field Artillery Brigade based out of JBLM were mobilized to work on wildfires in Washington for 30 days. Currently, several states – including Oregon, Montana, and Washington – have mobilized National Guard helicopters and personnel to serve as wildland firefighters to assist with wildfire suppression efforts.