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Guard Prepares to Respond to Oklahoma, Texas Wildfires

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 28, 2005 – National Guard helicopter crews are on standby if needed to assist local and county firefighters in Oklahoma and Texas, preparing to help douse dozens of wildfires burning throughout the region, Guard officials in both states told the American Forces Press Service today.

Blazes reportedly have broken out in 12 counties in Oklahoma and 39 counties in Texas and left at least one person dead in what officials are calling the most severe wildfire threat to hit the region in five years.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a statewide disaster declaration Dec. 27, mobilizing Guard troops and other state firefighting assets to battle the flames, which are reported to be heaviest in the central, north-central and northeast regions of the state.

Four Texas National Guard helicopters are on standby and preparing to respond, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada said.

Two CH-47 Chinooks, each capable of carrying 2,000 gallons of water, are on standby in Dallas, and two UH-60 Black Hawks, each able to carry 660 gallons of water, are at the Austin Aviation Support Facility, prepared to respond, Moncada said.

If deployed, the Black Hawks will operate in the central or western part of the state, and the Chinooks in the north and northwest, she said.

The Louisiana National Guard also is sending three UH-60 Black Hawks and crews to Texas to support the mission, National Guard Bureau officials said.

In Oklahoma, two CH-47s and a UH-60 and 12 crewmembers are on standby, according to Army Col. Pat Scully, state public affairs officer.

The fires have spread quickly through the drought-stricken region, flamed by high winds, officials said. Burn bans remain in effect in both states.

Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, described the Guard's readiness to respond to the wildfires, if called, as an example of the critical role the National Guard plays in emergency response stateside while also carrying out its federal missions overseas.

"Even with more than 80,000 Army and Air National Guard members currently supporting the global war on terrorism, the National Guard continues to display its skill and flexibility in supporting civil authorities at a moment's notice," Krenke said.

An estimated 4,000 National Guard members still are mobilized in support of Hurricane Katrina response, down from a peak of 50,000 in September, officials said.

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