Eastern Washington wildfires prompt call for Guard help

Officials say the number of wildland fires around the state is stretching resources.

By Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review

Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency Tuesday because of wildfires in Eastern Washington and called out National Guard troops to help fight the fires.

Called up were 100 members of Spokane-based Army and Air National Guard units who have been certified in procedures to fight wildfires. They are expected to be assigned to the Sheep Creek fire north of Northport, Washington, and to be on site by Friday.

The Guard is also sending a pair of Blackhawk helicopters to Fairchild Air Force Base, where they will be available for aerial firefighting runs.

Karina Shagren, a Guard spokeswoman, said the troops were being called up for what is expected to be a two-week period. The five 20-person crews are a mixture of soldiers and airmen from Spokane units.

Whether other crews will be called up to replace them isn’t known at this time, she said: “Things are very, very fluid.”

More than 200 members of the Washington National Guard have received red card certification to augment Department of Natural Resources and other state and local firefighting efforts, she said.

“Catastrophic fires are burning up and down the West Coast, putting a strain on our firefighting resources,” Inslee said in announcing the emergency proclamation, which allows Guard members to be called up.

Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said the number of wildfires around the state is stretching resources and the National Interagency Fire Center said all national resources are committed. The department already has responded to 891 fires this year, compared to 853 for all of 2017.

“Our state is at a very high risk for even more wildfires, and we need additional resources to keep our communities safe,” Franz said in a news release announcing Guard crews will be helping with northeast Washington fires.

On Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the Chelan Hills in Douglas County. That fire was reported as 97 percent contained on Tuesday, after burning 1,842 acres and damaging four residences.

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