The US Army is preparing to send hundreds of soldiers to fight the deadly wildfires raging in 11 states across the Western US.
Two hundred active-duty soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division’s 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington state will be mobilized to assist in ongoing firefighting efforts, according to a statement from US Army North, which provides operational control for ground forces deployed in support missions during national disasters.
Pvt. 1st Class Jon Wallace, 3rd Platoon, 570th Sapper Company, 14th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade uses a fire extinguisher to put out a tire fire. The fire department offers classes to Army units to ensure that they are well trained in putting out mine resistant ambush protective vehicle fires during convoy operations.
The Army unit will be sent out as early as this weekend after a couple of days of training. The soldiers will be organized into teams of 20 members and deployed to combat fires in an unspecified area. The deployment location will be determined based on which area is in greatest need of assistance, a US Army North spokeswoman told Business Insider.
The 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion reportedly specializes in construction and demolition, skills that the unit has used in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Fox News. The soldiers will be “working side by side with civilian firefighters,” as well as experienced firefighting personnel from the wildlands fire management agencies, US Army North explained to BI, adding that the soldiers will be involved in activities like clearing brush or constructing fire breaks.
Prior to deployment, soldiers will learn fire terminology, fire behavior, and fire safety. They will also be issued personal protective gear, such as boots that will not melt on the fire line, masks, and so on. Once on the fire line, the soldiers will be given tools — axes, chainsaws, etc.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Donald C. Knechtel)
“More than 127 wildfires are burning on about 1.6 million acres in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona and Alaska,” according to a statement from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho also announcing the deployment of US soldiers to combat the wildfires out west.
At least nine people have died in the wildfires spreading across the Western US, according to CBS News. President Donald Trumpdeclared the situation in California a “major disaster” Sunday, making it easier for local residents to secure access to much-needed government aid.
In many cases, the state National Guard units are already assisting state and federal agencies working tirelessly to put out the devastating wildfires. The US Army soldiers being sent to lend support are expected to be deployed for at least 30 days. The deployment could be cut short if necessary or extended, as long as doing so does not interfere with higher priority Department of Defense missions.