Army soldiers in Washington get their first fireline assignment

army soldiers Onata Fire
Captain Tran Sugai (second from right) briefs his platoon leaders as three crews of the Army’s Task Force First Round prepared to spend their first day on an active fire.

Tom Story, who is in Washington documenting some of the wildfire activity, has been spending time with some of the 200 soldiers that were trained last week to assist on the fires. These are his photos, and below is his report.


Three crews from the freshly fire-trained Army Task Force First Round, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, made their first trip to the fireline August 24, 2015 when they traveled north of the Kaniksu Complex’s Tower Fire in eastern Washington to the 300-acre Onata Fire. The Incident Management Team welcomed the additional help and gave the soldiers two tasks for the day: put in some hand line and help plumb, or install fire hose, on the bottom edge of the fire along a road the team wanted to use to halt the fire’s spread.

Like most things in fire, the plans changed on the scene and the hand line assignment was cancelled and the crews were put to work putting in a 1,500 foot hose lay in preparation for a burnout. Not only did the crew haul and lay a bunch of hose, they tied in with the Forest Service’s McKenzie River Hand Crew who were doing chain saw work, prepping for the burnout, lending a hand with swamping the cut material.

army soldiers Onata Fire
Part of the Army’s assignment on the Onata Fire was to assist putting in a hose lay as part of preparation for a planned burnout. Robert “Hippie” Horn (left) of North Dakota Forest Service hands rolls of hose to soldiers to distribute along a road.
army soldiers Onata Fire
Members of the Army’s Task Force First Round swamp behind the McKenzie River Hand Crew’s Sawyers in prep for a future burnout operation.
army soldiers Onata Fire
Following the sawyers of the McKenzie River Hand Crew, Penn Woolridge and other crew members move the cut material across the road and onto the green side of the planned burnout area.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.