National Guard Answers the Call for Help as West Coast Fires Rage

August 25, 2020Joshua Skovlund
california fires

A Cal Fire airplane drops Foscheck on a wild fire while working in conjunction with the Camp Pendleton Fire Department on Camp Pendleton, Calif., Sept 28, 2016. Photo courtesy of DVIDS/LCpl Samuel Brusseau.

The US National Guard has been called in to aid local firefighters as they attempt to extinguish the wild fires raging across California.

California is experiencing the highest concentration of widespread wildfires on the West Coast as millions of acres burn after lightning storms or people set wild fires throughout the state. According to the California Fire government website, as of today, more than 7,002 wildfires have burned 1.4 million acres and 1,509 structures have been damaged or burned on the West Coast. Five fatalities have been confirmed in the state since the start of the fires last week.

National Guard units from California, Washington, Oregon, Texas, Nevada and Wyoming have joined the fight alongside state and local fire departments on the West Coast. In California, the National Guard soldiers have combined with their civilian counterparts under Joint Task Force Rattlesnake. As of today, the California National Guard has deployed 660 soldiers along with seven helicopters equipped with water buckets, two C-130s with the capability to drop 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in five seconds, and two MQ-9 drones that aid in fire mapping and damage assessment.


“These service members are helping firefighters and police save lives and property,” the National Guard said in a press release. “National Guard members directed traffic, helped evacuate families, provided logistical support, flew helicopters with water buckets, flew C-130s that dropped fire-suppression slurry on blazes and actually were on the ground helping fire crews battle the blazes.”

On July 20, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown activated 460 Oregon National Guard soldiers to assist with combatting the wild fires within their state. An approximate 700,000 gallons of water have been dropped from military aircraft over Oregon’s fires in coordination with ground personnel in attempts to limit the spread of the fires.

The Washington National Guard mobilized seven 20-person teams on Aug. 5 to combat fires throughout the state. A Washington Military Department press release stated, “Two hand crews from the 176th Engineer Company, headquartered in Snohomish; three hand crews from the 141st Air Refueling Wing, headquartered at Fairchild Air Force Base; and two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 96th Aviation Troop Command, based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, will work together to attack smaller wildfires that are popping up on the east side of the state.”

US Air Force Lt. Col. Andy Rathbum, a RC-26 mission system operator assigned to the141st Operations Group, Washington Air National Guard, maps the Chetco Bar fire in southern Oregon using the RC-26s camera Sept. 2, 2017, Brookings, Oregon. Photo by Senior Airman Sean Campbell, courtesy of DVIDS.

In addition to the wildfire suppression in Washington, the Washington National Guard provided an RC-26 aircraft from the 141st Air Refueling Wing in Spokane, Washington, which has been assisting the entire West Coast during wildfire season for the third year in a row. The RC-26 aircraft provides assistance by “map[ping] known wildfires across the Pacific Northwest, detecting potential fires and lightning strikes with infrared camera equipment and providing real-time intelligence to fire crews on the ground.”

“Since 1975, the US Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior have had an interagency agreement with the Department of Defense (DOD) which allows DOD to provide firefighting support to the wild land fire management agencies when needed,” according to the National Interagency Fire Center. “Between boots on the ground and the mechanical and technological assistance, the National Guard have provided support wherever and whenever needed both stateside and overseas.”

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.

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