Western wildfires: Soldiers to help battle infernos

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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 wildfires ravaging seven Western states, the National Interagency Fire Center said Monday in a news release.

About 95 fires have destroyed hundreds of homes, caused the evacuation of more than 1,000 people and burned 1.1 million acres in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada and Colorado, the NIFC said.

The soldiers will handle “quiet parts of the fire,” NIFC spokesman Ken Frederick said

“That’s important because it frees up our more experienced crews to handle more complex dangerous fire situations,” he said. “So they (soldiers) could be mopping up, watching for and waiting to put out spot fires and digging fire line.”

The soldiers will come from the 17th Field Artillery Brigade, 7th Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, which has one of the worst wildfire problems.

Active duty soldiers have been used to fight wildfires 35 times since 1987, the NIFC 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 worst-hit states:

CALIFORNIA

A red flag warning is in effect for parts of California, where four years of drought have made it easy for flames to spread.

One of the state’s largest blazes, the Route Complex, had razed 28,401 acres and was 28% contained early 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 early Monday, it had burned about 23,000 acres and was 65% contained. Two buildings were destroyed and five people injured. At least 19 fires were burning in the state.

Through August 8, there have been 4,382 fires that burned 117,960 acres, according to CalFire. Through that date in 2014, there were 3,047 fires that burned 87,988 acres.

IDAHO

In Idaho, the Soda Fire has covered 283,686 acres in Owyhee County, in the southeast corner of the state. The fire was 25% contained with 860 people working to bring it under control, according to the national fire tracking website InciWeb.

The cause of the fire is unknown.

The cause of the fire is unknown.

The Lawyer Complex Fire near Kamiah, in northwest Idaho, has destroyed an estimated 50 homes and 75 outbuildings, 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 burned more than 40,000 acres in eastern Oregon.

The declaration authorizes the state fire marshal to mobilize fire resources from around the state to protect homes. There are 14 major fires in Oregon, the governor said.

At least 26 homes have been destroyed in the Canyon Creek fire, the governor’s office said, with 500 more homes threatened. About 300 people have evacuated. The fire started July 17 and is expected to grow 1,000-3,000 acres daily, depending on weather conditions, the governor’s office said.

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. “Embers were straight at me. We would have to keep hosing ourselves down, because it was so hot.”

The fire was caused by lightning.

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.

The fires dealt a painful blow to the local economy when it destroyed the processing plant for Chelan Fruit Inc., the city’s largest employer.

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 of Chelan lost almost everything when the fire destroyed his home in Chelan.

“I put everything I could in my car, got the animals and we bailed out,” he told CNN affiliate KCPQ.

The next day he drove by his house and “everything was gone. I’m trying not to think of all the stuff I lost. Not only does that house go out, cabins that have been in the family since 1935 are gone too.”

“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.”

CNN’s Paul Vercammen, Dave Alsup, Faith Karimi, Tony Marco, Joe Sutton and Sam Stringer contributed to this report.

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