200 active-duty soldiers activated to fight wildfires in California

Their fire training will begin August 30 near Tacoma, Washington

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File photo. Robert Baird, Regional Director of Fire and Aviation management in the Pacific Southwest Region of the USFS addresses some of the Marines and Sailors from the 7th Engineer Support Battalion from Camp Pendleton, CA during a welcoming ceremony for Marines at the Creek Fire Incident Command Post on the Sierra National Forest, Saturday 19, 2020. USFS photo.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho, has requested a Department of Defense (DoD) activation of approximately 200 active-duty U.S. Army Soldiers to assist with wildfire suppression efforts. The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) at NIFC requested the personnel along with command and support staff. After receiving training, the Soldiers will serve as hand crews, assisting with wildfire suppression efforts in Northern California. Two similar requests were granted last year to support the August Complex and Creek wildfires in California.

The Soldiers will be trained over the next week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) near Tacoma, Washington and on the fireline to provide support in early September in Northern California.

“The United States has been experiencing above-normal fire activity throughout multiple geographic areas, which will likely continue into the fall. These conditions are creating competition for all types of wildland fire resources,” said Josh Simmons, NMAC Chair.

Currently, 84 large fires have burned 2.5 million acres in 9 states. More than 26,000 wildland firefighters are currently assigned to fires across the United States. The country has been at Preparedness Level 5 – the highest level of wildfire preparedness – since July 14. Several geographic areas are experiencing large, complex wildland fire incidents, which have the potential to exhaust national wildland fire suppression resources.

The training at JBLM will consist of both a classroom portion and field training in the basics of wildland fire suppression and firefighter safety. The Soldiers will be outfitted with wildland fire personal protective equipment  and other gear. They will be trained by wildland fire agency personnel beginning Monday, August 30 and should conclude by Wednesday, September 3. While providing support, the Soldiers will be accompanied by experienced wildland fire strike team leaders and crew bosses from wildland fire management agencies.

This is the 40th time since 1987 that active-duty military personnel have been mobilized to serve as wildland firefighters. In addition to the U.S. Army activation, eight U.S. Air Force C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) are currently serving as airtankers, providing wildfire support across the West.

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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.

13 thoughts on “200 active-duty soldiers activated to fight wildfires in California”

  1. These will be good aid to all you who have been working with little rest ! I don’t think fire season is close to being over, also remember that their are other States you maybe helping soon. The two main things is be safe and stay well ! And Remember all those in political office that care about you when you vote !

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  2. It’s great to have more military support on the ground but just a tad late this year and most precious years. Here’s my 2 cents. In early April every year, train up 500 soldiers in S190 and S130. By the time fire season’s intensity unfolds we’d have 25 crews available as backup without waiting for training to be completed and slowing down their engagement. It would be a much simpler process earlier in the year. Proactive is always easier than reactive. Just sayin’.

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  3. I just read an article on Slate on the reasons why there are not more DC 10 aircraft to combat these wildfires that seem to get bigger and bigger every year and cause billions in damage in just California. While there were several resons including training , refitting aircraft to handled retardent or water , storage , pilots they all have one common problem , MONEY. If California had just one of these aircraft designated just for wildfires in the state it would make a huge difference in containment and the amount of loss of property and lives. I am just taken back that no ones sees that it is essential and necessary to have a DC 10 FIRE FIGHTING PLANE avaialble to the state. I am only a third generation mexican american with a businss degree but at least I can see the requirement to have one of these planes on the ready. Gov Newsom must somehow work with the Feds to allow for funding to buy one of these life saving aircraft regardless of cost. In the time of severe climate change and a drought this is now a tool than can no longer be left out to combat these massive fires.

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    1. At the Federal level, they seem to want to protect cities built at or below sea level or on islands that are sinking into the ocean; the West and wildfires are sort of an after thought… IMO.

      Perhaps we could call one or all of the 10 Collective Trillionaires in America to purchase and fit the aircraft necessary since they have money to send rockets into the stratosphere and what not.

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    2. If California had just one of these aircraft designated just for wildfires in the state
      And what if a fire is burning in southern Oregon? or SW Nevada?
      Years ago California did not “loan out” the S-2T tankers. Part of the reason was that if they sent them to another state, they got paid for the use, but that money went into the state’s general fund and NOT back to CDF. Now they are occasionally sent to neighboring states’ fires, and no I don’t know whether they changed that payment situation.
      Oregon for quite a few years kept the DC-7 tankers (Butler) on contract long after the FS decided they couldn’t fly. They weren’t supposed to fly fed fires but sometimes did. Don’t know if they ever flew other states’ fires after the FS grounded them. It was only just recently that the last one retired.

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  4. In 17 we did two days of 130/190 with the army at joint base Lewis McCord and then traveled to a fire in oregon and did three days of on the job training on a quiet portion of a large fire to teach them line digging, cold trailing etc. it was a great experience to be a crew boss for those folks. And working in conjunction with our heroic military personnel!

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  5. I remember 40 hours for National Guard folks..sped up while near the fireline

    I think since these Marines are pretty good with entrenching tools, M4s, M9s, helicopters, helicopter maintenance and what not

    Pulaskis, shovels, McCleods, chainsaws ( if they see one), Combi tools are NOT too far off the mark for these young men and ladies to operate!!! We alllll started somewhere in the fire biz…we were NOT born with a Pulaski exiting the womb…….

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  6. It’s about time. The demands on our regular state, federal and local firefighters in recent months has Ieft them with limited chances for time away from the fireline to recover from both the physical and mental challenges of this year’s early fire season. With so many large fires taking a week or more to contain and new ones developing under unfavorable climatic and fuel conditions. I’m surprised there have not been more serious injuries as the season progresses.

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  7. In 1957 I was stationed at Port Hueneme with MCB3. One morning we got word to muster and as our names were called off we were told to go to the barracks and get a tooth brush and a light jacket and we would be going to a fire in the Santa Maria area. There were two man hauls full and away we went. No training or experience needed. When we got to the command area we were given a hand tool of some kind and up the trail we went. Came back to camp the next morning and were given a paper sleeping bag and chow. That night we were back up the trail. About 5 days later we were sent back home.
    One memorable sight was a pickup that had been hit by a tanker drop. In those early days of tankers they thought that digging trenches was the way to go. This pickup got a direct hit and was totally demolished. Nothing useable left except the engine, tranny and diff.

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