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Calmer Wildfires Let Washington National Guard Demobilize, Oregon's Guard Still On

Sgt. Jodi Eastham
U.S. Army National Guard
Soldiers from the 176th Engineering Company, Washington National Guard, worked 12 hour shifts on wildfire mop-up duty at the Jolly Mountain Fire near Cle Elum, Washington this month.

In a sign that the wildfire threat is receding, hundreds of Washington National Guard soldiers are being demobilized and sent home over the next 48 hours. They were activated to help fight wildfires earlier this month.

About 350 Washington National Guard members were called up for fire duty. Army National Guard soldiers cut fire breaks and did mop-up duties, manned checkpoints or set up air conditioned barrack tents and communication towers. A quartet of Air National Guard helicopters made water drops in Washington and Oregon.

Captain Joe Siemandel said the mobilization to different wildfires in the Cascade Mountains lasted two weeks for most.

"Everybody that ever goes out on a state activation always comes back and says it’s probably the best thing they ever did,” he said. "Let's hope it's the end of the 2017 fire season."

Meanwhile, the Oregon National Guard still has 350 citizen soldiers and airmen on fire duty, mainly at the Chetco Bar fire in southwest Oregon. That's well down from the peak of about 700 soldiers and airmen last month. The first Oregon guard members were mobilized for fire duty in the last week of July.

"As the rains begin, it's certainly helpful," Oregon National Guard spokesman Stephen Bomar said Monday.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.