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Active Army Troops Train to Join Oregon Wildfire Fight

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 18, 2002 – Hundreds of active duty soldiers from Fort Riley, Kan., are training up before they deploy to Oregon next week to help firefighters contain blazes in that Pacific Northwest state.

Capt. John Castillo, an Army engineer from Fort Lewis, Wash., reported for duty in Boise, Idaho, today as a military liaison to the National Interagency Fire Center, which oversees the country's firefighting efforts. He and other military representatives in Boise coordinate the interagency center and any active units called to help fight wildfires.

An NIFC team will go to Fort Riley to give three days of basic firefighting training to about 550 soldiers in a field artillery battalion, Castillo said. The Kansans are then expected to arrive Tuesday in Boise before heading to the Oregon site Wednesday for two days of familiarization training.

"Then, they'll go out to the fire line," he said.

The Riley soldiers will help contain fires using hand tools like axes, shovels and chainsaws, Castillo said. They'll cut down brush so fires can't jump and spread.

Castillo said he's not sure if other troops will be needed for firefighting duty in Oregon or elsewhere.

"You can never tell, what with the weather patterns and crew manning requirements," he explained. Weather conditions conducive to creating or spreading forest fires would be dry, high-pressure systems with lightning strikes, he noted.

Castillo said he was in Boise in August last year working with NIFC as soldiers from Fort Lewis, Wash., fought fires in Washington state. Then and now, he expects the area's September rainy season to play a major part in ending the crisis, he added.

Meanwhile, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has engaged the National Guard to fight this year's blazes, which threaten to engulf 100,000 acres if not contained. Air National Guard and Army Guard troops have already been fighting summer wildfires in several Western and Pacific Northwest states that have claimed more than 3 million acres of forestland.

Castillo's liaison group deploys to Boise when NIFC asks for active duty military assistance, generally from the Army and Marines, he noted. The request usually comes, he explained, when Preparedness Level 5 is reached, meaning 525 civilian firefighters have been committed nationally for four or five consecutive days.

Castillo said he enjoys helping to protect people, property and natural wildlife. "It's a really good mission," he concluded.

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