DoD troops called in to help fight western fires

klunney@govexec.com

Approximately 1,800 soldiers and Marines have joined forces with federal and local firefighters to battle wildfires raging across the nation's Western states.

Federal, state and local firefighters have been battling blazes across several Western states-including California, Idaho and Montana-since last week. The National Interagency Fire Center formally requested assistance from the Defense Department last week to help contain the fires.

About 500 soldiers from Ft. Hood, Texas arrived in Boise, Idaho on Tuesday. According to Lt. Col. Mike Milord, a Pentagon spokesman, the 1,800 military personnel committed to the firefighting effort are divided evenly among Army soldiers, Marines, and members of the National Guard on active duty.

Milord said most military personnel will not be directly confronting flames, but will be clearing trees, brush, and isolating the fire-tasks which will help firefighters focus on extinguishing the blaze.

The Defense Department has joined firefighting efforts in the past. According to Milord, 15,000 military personnel were called upon to help contain fires in the United States between 1985 and 1998. In 1996, about 1,000 soldiers assisted firefighters battling blaze that ravaged Umapilla National Forest near in Oregon.

Milord said the armed services are committed to pitching in to help fight fires whenever they are needed.

"If we get more requests [for help], we are prepared to respond until we have exhausted our resources. We are not at that point yet," he said.

According to an Associated Press report, the federal government is spending $15 million a day to support the 20,000 civilian and military firefighters from 46 states and Canada.

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