SPOKANE, Wash. August 17, 2015 — As the season’s worst fire conditions continue in eastern Washington and nine large fires burn uncontained across the state, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) requested assistance from the Washington National Guard.
Two National Guard Black Hawk helicopters arrived Friday and five 20-person hand crews arrived Sunday evening to join 350 firefighters battling one of the state’s most active fires, Cougar Creek, on the southeastern slopes of Mount Adams. The Guard crews recently completed wildland fire training in Yakima.
Wildfires raging in Oregon, California, and Montana have pulled firefighters and air resources to those states, where the biggest fires are commanding national attention.
Late last week, aircrews from the Wyoming and North Carolina Air National Guard, flying C-130 Hercules aircraft equipped with the U.S. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems, were called upon to assist with fighting wildfires in California.
The Forest Service requested the MAFFS-equipped C-130s last week, one from the 153rd Airlift Wing in Wyoming and the other from the 145th Airlift Wing in North Carolina. The aircrews are operating out of McClellan Airtanker Base, California.
This is the first MAFFS activation this year for both units. As part of previous suppression efforts in the region, the 302nd Airlift Wing, based in Colorado, was activated almost two weeks ago. Military C-130s equipped with MAFFS provide surge capability to the Forest Service.
“The Guard’s help now is vital,” said Mary Verner, Washington state’s DNR’s deputy for wildfire. “This partnership is essential to our ability to fight wildfire aggressively and effectively under very challenging conditions.”
“W’ve been expecting another devastating wildfire season – and have had our personnel and equipment ready so we can get them out the door the moment w’re asked for help,” said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the state’s adjutant general and commander of the Washington National Guard. “W’ve trained extensively for these types of missions and will continue to provide support for as long as needed and requested.”
The Cougar Creek fire, located six miles northwest of Glenwood, began on Aug. 10. The fire has rapidly grown to 18,000 acres with zero containment after lightning struck a heavily forested area.
Other large fires currently burning in the state include Wolverine, near Lake Chelan; Paradise, on the western border of Olympic National Park; Stickpin, northwest of Colville; Nine Mile, burning on the border with Canada near Oroville, and North Star, east of Omak. In addition, numerous smaller wildfires are popping up daily throughout the state, which require immediate action by crews with engines and helicopters to keep fires from growing larger.
Much of eastern Washington is under a red-flag fire-weather warning issued by the National Weather Service to inform area firefighting, land management agencies, and the public that conditions pose elevated wildfire danger.
The dangerous fire weather and other factors prompted a move Aug. 13 to a Level 5 wildfire preparedness level across Washington and Oregon, according to the Northwest Coordination Center, which manages interagency firefighting.
This is the highest level for this fire season, which means the area is experiencing major wildfires which have the potential to exhaust all fire resources.
DNR is the state’s lead wildland firefighting agency, protecting about 13 million acres of forest and grasslands across the state. As of Aug. 11, there have been 751 fires on DNR-protected lands, with 628 of them caused by human activity.
By this time last year, Washington had experienced 565 fires, with 455 of those human caused.
Figures from the National Guard Bureau showed that more than 480 troops were on duty in California, including about 15 from Nevada. Oregon had more than 20 on fire duty and more than 260 troops were assigned to fire duty in Washington.