The 2015 fire season has been especially bad for the western United States, with wildfires burning out of control across the region and exacerbated by years of drought. To get control over the fires, authorities have deployed about 200 active-duty military personnel to the areas most affected.
The Seattle Times reports that the 200 Army personnel are based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and that the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), based in Boise, Idaho, requested the soldiers’ assistance as support personnel who can work in 10-person and 20-person crews to battle Washington state’s 17 out-of-control wildfires. This is the first such request for military help since the 2006 fire season.
The fact that the NIFC issued such a request is an indication of how bad the 2015 fire season has been. Heavy drought across the western states has left unusually large amounts of dry fuel on the ground, and years of sub-average rainfall have left the ground depleted of moisture. Fires start readily under such conditions, and they rapidly spread out of control.
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The soldiers deployed to the front lines of the fires act mainly in secondary roles, according to CNN. The limited wilderness fire training the soldiers get before they’re sent out limits their utility in the most difficult terrain, but their presence in low-intensity areas is expected to free up more experienced crews to deal with the most hazardous fires.
The soldiers will also be used as lookouts, monitoring areas for new blazes, as well as in support roles such as digging firebreaks and transporting supplies to the fire crews. The soldiers called up are members of the 17th Field Artillery Brigade, part of the 7th Infantry Division.
With hundreds of fires burning out of control in western states, local fire protection agencies need all the help they can get. By calling up soldiers from nearby Army bases, officials hope to get control of a fire season that shows no signs of ending early.Whizzco