Air, Ground Units Team Up to Combat Wildfires
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 28, 2000 Military aircrews continue to transport troops and dump flame-retardant chemicals on Western wildfires as more soldiers and Marines have been called into the fight.
Two fresh active-duty Army battalions and one of Marines have deployed to assist ground firefighters in Montana and Idaho. The new units bring the total military participation to more than 4,600 soldiers, Marines and airmen, Department of Defense officials estimated.
Wildfires in the western United States have charred 6.2 million acres of land, an area roughly the size of Vermont, said Marine Corps Maj. Curtis L. Hill, a military liaison officer working with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Earlier this month, active-duty soldiers and Marines deployed to Idaho and Montana to augment civilian firefighters and reserve component support teams. The soldiers and Marines have been smothering residue fires in burned-through areas.
Flying above burning forests in Idaho, Montana, California and Wyoming, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard C-130 Hercules aircrews have released more than 1.8 million gallons of fire retardant chemicals on fires as of Aug. 20, according to Air Force officials. In addition, Reserve C- 141 Starlifter crews have transported more than 1,300 active-duty soldiers, Marines and civilian firefighters to afflicted areas.
DoD officials note that 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.
About 560 soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) from Fort Campbell, Ky., were scheduled to arrive in Missoula, Mont., Aug. 25 to fight blazes in Bitterroot National Forest, officials said. Another 500 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 321st Field Artillery, XVIII Airborne Corps, are scheduled to arrive Aug. 28 in Kalispell, Mont., to battle wildfires in Kootenai National Forest.
These troops will join soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division’s 20th Engineer Battalion from Fort Hood, Texas, who arrived in Montana Aug. 13 and are assisting firefighting efforts at the Upper Nine Mile Complex in the Lolo National Forest near Huson.
About 500 Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, N.C., are scheduled to deploy Sept. 1 to Idaho. They will relieve the 600 members of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, Calif., who’ve supported firefighting efforts at Clear Creek in the Salmon-Challis National Forest since Aug 5.
Aircrews from the Air Force Reserve 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands Air National Guard Base, Calif., were deployed July 25 to fight fires in Southern California. The California mission ended Aug. 11.
Hill said more than 80 major fires were burning as of Aug. 28 in Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, California, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Other examples of military air support used to combat wildfires include:
- Two Air Force Reserve C-130 aircraft and two Guard C- 130s, all equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems have operated out of Spokane and delivered 167,000 gallons of fire retardant on fires in Idaho and Montana. Each unit has 37 people, including support personnel in Spokane.
- The Wyoming Air Guard 153rd Airlift Wing of Cheyenne and the North Carolina Air Guard 145th Airlift Wing of Charlotte have flown C-130s from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, since the beginning of the firefighting effort July 25. The 85 airmen from these units have flown almost 500 sorties, using the airborne firefighting systems to disperse more than a million gallons of retardant on wildfires throughout the West.
- On Aug. 5 and 6, a Air Force Reserve C-141 from the 445th Airlift Wing, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and another from the 452nd Air Mobility Wing, March Air Reserve Base, Calif., teamed up with two active-duty C-141s from McChord AFB, Wash. The four airlifted 750 Marines and civilian firefighters and 12 tons of support equipment to Idaho Falls, Idaho.
- Five Air Force Reserve C-141 crews flew to Robert Gray Army Airfield in Killeen, Texas, Aug. 12 to pick up the 600 1st Cavalry Division soldiers and 12 tons of cargo and fly them to Missoula, Mont. The aircrews were from the 445th Airlift Wing and 452nd Air Mobility Wing; the 446th Airlift Wing, McChord Air Force Base, Wash.; the 459th Airlift Wing, Andrews Air Force Base, Md.; and the 514th Air Mobility Wing, McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.
- About 400 Montana National Guardsmen have been called to active duty to fight fires in their home state. More than 1,000 other reserve component members have been activated to date to assist federal firefighters. Providing support at Missoula were reservists from the 315th Airlift Wing, Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.; and the 514th Air Mobility Wing, 445th Airlift Wing and 302nd Airlift Wing.
More than 1,500 Army and Air National Guardsmen are serving on state active duty to support firefighting operations in 10 states, DoD officials said.
On Aug. 16, the governor of Montana declared his state a disaster area, allowing the use of the National Guard anywhere in the state. In Montana, DoD officials note that 670 Army and Air National Guardsmen are providing law enforcement support for traffic control, aviation support and firefighters in Lewis and Clark Counties.
(Editor’s Note: DoD and Air Force news releases were used in compiling this report.)