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IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release No: 521-00
August 24, 2000

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE TOPS 4,600 MARK TO BATTLE WILDLAND BLAZES

More than 4,600 soldiers, Marines and airmen are now committed to the Department of Defense mission to augment federal and local firefighters and law enforcement officials in several western states.

From the Army, about 500 soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), from Fort Campbell, Ky., arrive tomorrow in Missoula, Mont., to conduct operations in the Bitterroot National Forest. The 1st Battalion, 321st Field Artillery, 18th Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, N.C., is scheduled to deploy about 500 soldiers Monday, Aug. 28, to Kalispell, Mont., and will proceed to battle wild fires in the Kootenai National Forest.

The Army's 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, is already deployed to the Burgdorf Junction Fire on the Payette National Forest near McCall, Idaho, while the 20th Engineer Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, also from Fort Hood, are engaged with the Nine-Mile fire near Huson, Mont.

Another 500-plus Marines from the 3d Battalion, 2d Marines, Camp Lejeune, N.C., are scheduled also to join the operations in Kootenai National Forest, Mont. This is the second Marine Battalion and is being used to replace the first Marine battalion sent to fight fires. The 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif., with about 600 Marines, is now operating at the Clear Creek fire complex in the Salmon-Challis National Forest near Idaho Falls, Idaho.

The soldiers and Marines receive the same training as all crews who work on a fire line: classroom orientation followed by hands-on field training.

Federal firefighting officials at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho, have formally requested assistance from the Department during one of the worst wildfire seasons in a decade. NIFC has instituted a "Preparedness Level 5" indicating that all federal firefighting resources are fully committed.

The Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve are providing eight C-130 aircrews and aircraft, equipped with the modular airborne firefighting system. Units include the Air Guard's 153rd Airlift Wing, Cheyenne, Wyo.; 145th Airlift Wing, Charlotte, N.C., operating from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The Air Guard's 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands, Calif., and the Air Reserve's 302nd Airlift Wing, Colorado Springs, Colo., are conducting operations from Spokane International Airport, Wash.

Already the aircrews have flown more than 615 hours with 567 sorties and 561 airdrops totaling more than 13 millions pounds of fire retardant chemicals.

The Air Force's Air Mobility Command has flown about 12 fire-related airlift missions in the past month, with C-17s carrying people and equipment to the mission sites. Six more missions are currently scheduled for the next two weeks.

Also on the ground, the Army has deployed five active duty soldiers to NIFC in Boise, Idaho to serve as the U.S. Defense Liaison Team.

The National Guard, serving on state active duty, is providing more than 1,500 soldiers and airmen in 10 states.

In Montana, 670 Army and Air Guardsmen are providing law enforcement support for traffic control, aviation support and firefighters in Lewis and Clark County.

The Idaho National Guard has activated 332 Army and Air Guardsmen to perform transportation and traffic control support in Custer County. In Oregon, 261 Army Guardsmen are undergoing training at Camp Rilea for firefighting operations. The California Army Guard also has activated 30 soldiers in various counties for aviation support for the Storrie fire.

Wyoming has called up 104 Army Guardsmen for transportation and general support in several counties for the Black Hall and Green Mountain fires and Kate's Basin complex. In Nevada, 50 Army and Air Guardsmen are providing aviation support, shelter, meals and transportation to the forestry division in White Pine County.

In Utah, 13 Army Guardsmen are providing aviation and transportation support to firefighters engaged in the Swains fire complex. In Washington, nine Army Guardsmen are providing aviation support for the Buffalo Lake wildfire.

South Dakota has activated nine Army and Air Guardsmen to provide transportation and aviation support in Fall River County for the Flagpole and Chilson fires. The Arizona National Guard is providing three soldiers and an armory for a staging base in Maricopa County.