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National Guard helps fight fires across Washington

By Joseph Siemandel | Washington National Guard | Sept. 16, 2020

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – More than 50 members of the Washington National Guard are helping the Department of Natural Resources battle wildfires.

Three hand crews were pulled together Sept. 10 to assist firefighters battling the Whitney Fire in Davenport.

Chief Master Sgt. Mark Soulier, noncommissioned officer in charge of the firefighting crew from the 194th Wing, said the fires and evacuations have hit home for some Airmen.

"It gives us that personal connection to it because it's our communities, our houses, our families," said Soulier. "We'll actually be out there cutting lines and clearing fields and putting out fires."

For one Air Guardsman, the firefighting mission gives him a chance to support his state and fulfill a childhood aspiration to be a firefighter.

"The National Guard has given me an opportunity to both serve in the military and give me a taste of what firefighting is like," said Staff Sgt. Jordan Prior of North Bend, who serves in the 262nd Cyberspace Operations Squadron.

While hand crews deployed just this past week, National Guard aviation assets have been fighting wildfires for a month.

In August, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a state proclamation allowing the Washington National Guard to be called up to support wildfire efforts. Two helicopter crews from 96th Aviation Troop Command immediately deployed to Omak, supporting the firefighting efforts on the Palmer Fire.

"We have people that actively volunteer to support the firefighting mission," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Travis Marzolf, a pilot with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 140th Aviation. "This is why they are in the Guard because these missions are important."

Marzolf and flight crews have been busy this past month, hopping from the Palmer Fire to the Evans Canyon Fire in Kittitas County to supporting wildfire fighting efforts in western Washington at the Mima Fire in Thurston County and the Sumner Grade Fire that threatened homes and businesses in Sumner and Bonney Lake.

"That was a different kind of fire," Marzolf said. "We normally are out fighting these wildland fires in rural areas that are not super close to a population area. This was very different. The fire was right next to homes. We had to deal with power lines, trees and more obstacles, making it much more difficult."

Washington National Guard flight crews have dropped more than 1,400 buckets of water – almost 900,000 gallons – on the fires.

"It's a team effort, from the pilots to the guys on the ground talking, to the crew chiefs in the back ensuring the helicopter doesn't hit anything and operating the bucket to the guys that drive 14 hours across the state to fuel up the helicopters, this is truly a team effort," said Marzolf. "We are just flying around dropping water. The guys on the ground pulling long days fighting fires deserve a lot of credit."