RAINIER, Wash. – With the summer months in full swing, the Washington National Guard is preparing for what could be a busy fire season.
“We successfully trained 180 Guardsmen during the four academies. Mixed with our recertification, we will have approximately 250 service members ready to support the fire teams,” said Maj. Donny Payne, Washington National Guard firefighting support coordinator.
Last week, Guardsmen completed the fourth and final Washington Department of Natural Resources fire training academy in Rainier in preparation for the upcoming season.
With most of the state experiencing triple-digit temperatures before the Fourth of July, the Guard has the potential to be activated earlier than usual. National Guard ground firefighters typically are activated in late August or early September to augment fire teams that lose crew members heading back to school.
“We have seen the need for our Guardsmen to help with wildland firefighting increase since 2013,” said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the adjutant general, Washington National Guard. “Our team has done a fantastic job not just getting training available, but building the program up, helping us be more prepared to support when the state needs us.”
Like previous years, aviation assets from 96th Aviation Troop Command have trained and certified with the Department of Natural Resources. In early June, Chinook helicopter crewmembers completed their classroom and drop training.
“From all we are hearing from meteorologists with the DNR, this will be an intense fire season,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ryan Schwend, a Chinook pilot with 1st Battalion, 168th General Support Aviation.
Washington isn’t the only Western state preparing for wildfire season. Guardsmen in Oregon, California and Arizona actively engaged in fire training this spring. Fires devastated the West last year, with more than 7 million acres destroyed.
“We know that this isn’t just a state problem, and we all need to be prepared to fight the common enemy,” said Daugherty.
Many counties across Washington state have imposed burn bans before the Fourth of July weekend.