'Wildfire activity has escalated': U.S. may call up troops, request international help

Firefighters with the Devil's Canyon Hand Crew, calls it a day after supervising tactical training with the Soldiers assigned to 23rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Umpqua North Complex, Oregon, Sept. 8. The Devil's Canyon Hand Crew is an all-veteran wildland firefighting crew based out of Worland, Wyoming. (U.S. Army photo by Pvt. Adeline Witherspoon, 20th Public Affairs Detachment)

BOISE, Idaho - For only the fourth time in a decade, the nation's top wildland fire managers have moved the gauge of the nation's wildfire situation to its highest - and most dire - level.

The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group move the National Fire Preparedness Level to 5 at 1 p.m. PDT Friday.

The scale goes from 1, indicating little to no fire activity; to 5, which signals very high activity - with more on the way.

This is only the fourth time since 2009 the nation has reached PL-5.

"During PL-5, further assistance from the military, beyond what is already in use, and international resources may be considered and requested, and agency personnel in other positions may be activated for fire duty, but no decisions have been made concerning those steps," the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group said in a statement Friday.

The last time the Preparedness Level reached 5 was August 10, 2017. It remained at 5 for 40 days.

During that period, 200 soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington trained as firefighters and deployed to the Umpqua North Complex outside Roseburg. The soldiers served 30 days as firefighters.

Active duty military were pressed into service in 2015 for the first time since 2006.

At the state level, the Oregon National Guard has placed helicopters into firefighting service.

The agency has two 125-person teams already trained and certified to fight wildfires, should the need arise.

Another 125-person team will be ready by August 10, the state said.

Those citizen soldiers might prove critical in Oregon under Preparedness Level 5.

During periods of high wildfire activity, when assets are stretched thin, federal, tribal, state and local partners work together to prioritize wildfires so that those threatening life, property and valuable natural and cultural resources receive assets as quickly as possible. Professional wildfire managers adapt their strategies and tactics based on the assets that they receive and do the very best they can to suppress unwanted wildfires effectively and efficiently.
Wildfire activity has escalated in recent days after thunderstorms, many with little or no moisture, moved across parts of Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, sparking hundreds of new fires. To date, 36,689 wildfires have burned over 4,151,098 million acres of federal, tribal, state, and private land in the United States this year. In comparison, the amount of wildfires to date is slightly below the ten-year average of 38,620 fires. However, the ten-year average for the amount of acres burned is 3,645,013 million acres, which is lower than current acres burned to date this year.
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