Western wildfires: Soldiers to help battle infernos

Story highlights

  • For the first time since 2006, active military personnel will be used to fight wildfires
  • About 100 wildfires have scorched more than 1 million acres in 10 states

(CNN)You know the infernos are out of control when 25,000 firefighters aren't enough to stop them.

Now soldiers will join the ranks of firefighters as almost 100 raging wildfires continue burning in 10 Western states.
About 200 active duty military personnel will help battle blazes in Western states, the National Interagency Fire Center said. It's the first time soldiers have fought wildfires since 2006.
    About 95 fires have destroyed hundreds of homes and scorched 1.1 million acres in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada and Colorado, the center said.
    The soldiers will handle "quiet parts of the fire," center spokesman Ken Frederick said.
    "That's important because it frees up our more experienced crews to handle more complex dangerous fire situations," he said. Soldiers "could be mopping up, watching for and waiting to put out spot fires and digging fire lines."
    The soldiers will come from the 17th Field Artillery Brigade, 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington -- one of the worst-hit states.
    Active duty soldiers have been used to fight wildfires 35 times since 1987, the National Interagency Fire Center said.
    "The U.S. military has been a key partner in wildland firefighting for decades, and we greatly appreciate their willingness to provide us with soldiers to serve as firefighters," said Aitor Bidaburu, chairman of the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group.
    The military is also providing C-130s equipped to drop large quantities of fire retardant.
    Here's a breakdown of what's happening in four of the most devastated states:

    CALIFORNIA

    Four years of drought have helped make California a tinder box for at least 19 wildfires.
    One of the largest blazes, the Route Complex, has torched 28,401 acres and was 28% contained Monday, authorities said.
    The fire, which affected areas around Mad River, Dinsmore and Hyampom, started last month following a lightning storm.
    In Montebello, a suspected arson caused a wildfire that leaped across roads.
    Another blaze, the Mad River Complex, comprises seven fires that started last month after a lightning storm hit northern California.
    By Monday, it had burned about 23,000 acres and was 65% contained. Two buildings were destroyed and five people injured.
    From January 1 through August 8, at least 4,382 fires have burned more than 117,900 acres, according to CalFire. Over the same period last year, there were 3,047 fires that burned 87,988 acres.

    IDAHO

    The Soda Fire has razed more than 283,000 acres in the southeast corner of the state. But a drop in winds Monday helped firefighters contain 90% of the blaze, according to the national fire-tracking website InciWeb.
    No injuries have been reported, but 27 wild horses were killed, according to CNN affiliate KIVI-TV.
    The cause of the fire is unknown.
    In northwest Idaho, the Lawyer Complex Fire near Kamiah has destroyed 50 homes, according to the state's Department of Lands.

    OREGON

    Gov. Kate Brown has invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act in response to the Canyon Creek Complex Fire, which has charred more than 40,000 acres in eastern Oregon.
    With this move, the state fire marshal can mobilize fire resources from around the state to protect homes. At least 14 major fires were burning Monday in Oregon, the governor said.
    At least 26 homes have been destroyed in the Canyon Creek fire, Brown's office said, with 500 more homes threatened. About 300 people have evacuated.
    The fire started July 17 and is expected to grow 1,000 to 3,000 acres daily, depending on weather conditions, the governor's office said.
    One homeowner said he was helpless to stop the fire.
    "There was nothing we could do -- it was gone," Canyon Creek resident Dean Fox told CNN affiliate KTVZ-TV. "Embers were straight at me. We would have to keep hosing ourselves down because it was so hot."
    The fire was caused by lightning. About 475 firefighters have been trying to tame it.

    WASHINGTON

    Almost two dozen fires are scorching Washington state.
    Fires around Chelan and McNeil Canyon, a resort area in central Washington state, have burned 38,793 acres and were 30% contained, according to InciWeb. About 50 homes have been destroyed, and 1,500 people are under evacuation orders.
    David D'Armond praised crews for saving his home as intense flames loomed.
    "They came quick," he told CNN affiliate KCPQ-TV. "The winds kicked up, and it was unstoppable."
    Rick Anderson, a fire chief in Stevens County, added, "This is the biggest fire we've ever had in this area."
    "If it goes worse from here we are looking at another 100 to 150 homes," he told CNN affiliate KXLY-TV.
    But the fires dealt a painful blow to the local economy when it destroyed the processing plant for Chelan Fruit Inc., Chelan's largest employer. The fire also burned a winery and lumber yard, KIRO said.
    Lightning strikes started the fires Friday, said Jim Duck of the Central Washington Interagency Communication Center.
    More than 1,000 people have fled Chelan County as the wildfires destroyed homes, KIRO said.
    Paul Smythe lost almost everything when the fire destroyed his house in Chelan.
    "I put everything I could in my car, got the animals and we bailed out," he told CNN affiliate KCPQ-TV.
    When he later drove by his house, "everything was gone."
    "I'm trying not to think of all the stuff I lost," Smythe said. "Not only does that house go out, cabins that have been in the family since 1935 are gone, too."