CHELAN, WASHINGTON – Wildfires are putting such a strain on the nation’s firefighting resources that authorities have activated the military and sought international help to beat back scores of blazes burning uncontrolled throughout the dry West.
The situation is so urgent that the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, this week called in 200 active-duty military troops to help contain roughly 95 wildfires. It’s the first time since 2006 that the agency has mobilized soldiers for fire-suppression.
“Nationally, the system is pretty tapped,” said Rob Allen, the deputy incident commander for the fires around the Cascade Mountain resort town of Chelan, Washington. “Everything is being used right now, so competition for resources is fierce.”
The troops are all coming from the 17th Field Artillery Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma and will be sent to a fire north of Republic, a town in central Washington, about 30 miles (48 km) south of the Canadian border.
Fire managers at the center are able to enlist military help when there are not enough civilian firefighting teams, thanks to a 1975 agreement between the Defense, Interior and Agriculture departments.
The help can be crucial in particularly active years like this one, when the center’s firefighting teams and equipment are fighting hundreds of fires across many states. In the last two weeks alone, more than 1,500 sq. miles (3,885 sq. km) have burned in the Lower 48 states, center spokesman Ken Frederick said.