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National Guard Helps Battle Wildfires

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2006 – National Guard crews continue to assist Oklahoma and Texas firefighters in dousing wildfires that have now burned more than 600,000 acres in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, officials said today.

Texas Air National Guard crews aided firefighters in battling a 22,000-acre blaze that threatened more than 200 homes near Carbon, Texas, this week, Jack Harrison, a National Guard spokesman told the American Forces Press Service.

Since Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a statewide disaster declaration Dec. 27, the Texas National Guard has deployed numerous crewmembers along with multiple UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada said. Also, at the request of the Department of Emergency Management, nineteen Army Guard and two Air Guard personnel were deployed with four bulldozers and tractor-trailers from the 7th Engineer Brigade, she added.

"Four Black Hawks assisted firefighters in Eastland County, and two Chinooks with larger, 2,000-gallon buckets supported firefighters in Carbon Eastland County Jan. 1. The aircraft flew a total of 7.5 hours and dropped a total of 17 buckets until nightfall," Moncada said.

On Jan. 2 the Black Hawks ended the day with 38.9 total flight hours and 321 buckets dropped. Texas military forces also provided a C-130 to transport fire-retardant material to Oklahoma firefighters, Moncada said.

Oklahoma National Guard officials could not be reached for comment.

To date, the Louisiana National Guard has provided three Black Hawks and 18 crewmembers, Harrison said. Each helicopter can carry 660 gallons of water, he added.

"The quick response from Louisiana was the result of the Emergency Management Assistance Council 'Immediate Response' agreement signed by governors across the country," Moncada said.

Reports indicate that the wildfires have destroyed almost 500 homes and killed four people thus far.

A burn ban is in effect across Texas and Oklahoma, and the U. S. Forest Service is asking the public to exercise caution and report fires, even if they are minor.

There are no significant weather changes in the forecast, and drought conditions are expected to continue until the spring. Texas Army and Air National Guard personnel will continue to support firefighters as long as it takes get the wildfires under control, Moncada added.

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