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Washington National Guard Activated To Join Wildfire Fight

Washington National Guard soldiers and airmen are being called up to help with the rash of Northwest wildfires. Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency on Saturday because of wildfires, which cleared the way for the activation of the Guard. 

The Guard activated 239 citizen soldiers with a variety of skills to work at three different forest fires— the Jolly Mountain, Norse Peak and Uno Peak—in the Cascade Mountains. Some Guard members will staff roadblocks. Others will fly helicopters making water drops. There are the traditional hand crews and then there's a unit from Spokane County bringing air-conditioned barrack tents.

Col. Kevin McMahan said they'll set up at the Jolly Mountain Fire camp near Cle Elum.

"The Department of Natural Resources firefighters and planners that work the night shift trying to get some sleep during the day in 90-plus degree weather are having some difficulty, which is obviously impacting their resiliency,” he said.

McMahan said the state forester gave him a heads up last week that help from the Washington National Guard would be needed. He expects a roughly two-week deployment for the troops coming on duty now.

Oregon National Guard members have been on the fire lines since last month. There are 430 members doing fire work with another 250 in training who'll head out to the field next week.

An Oregon Office of Emergency Management spokesperson said those totals are similar to the last big fire season activation in 2015. ?

?Active-duty Army soldiers from Washington state are also being assigned to wildfire duty. Approximately 200 soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division trained on basic wildfire safety techniques at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Wednesday prior to shipping out to Oregon.

Poor visibility caused by thick smoke has unfortunately grounded the two Blackhawk choppers and one CH-47 Chinook the Air National Guard intended to deploy from Gray Army Airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. ?

Earlier, the Washington National Guard sent another Blackhawk with a water bucket to support the Oregon Guard at the Chetco Bar wildfire in southwest Oregon where it is flying now. 

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.