US calls in troops as firefighters struggle against huge wildfires

Firefighters preparing to face the Wolverine wildfire near Chelan, Washington state, on Sunday. More than 29,000 civilian fire personnel are battling about 95 major wildfires tearing across seven western states. The fires have already scorched more t
Firefighters preparing to face the Wolverine wildfire near Chelan, Washington state, on Sunday. More than 29,000 civilian fire personnel are battling about 95 major wildfires tearing across seven western states. The fires have already scorched more than 405,000ha of land amid a heatwave.PHOTO: REUTERS

SALMON (Idaho) • The US Army has mobilised soldiers to reinforce civilian firefighters stretched thin by dozens of major wildfires roaring largely unchecked across the western United States.

The 200 troops will be sent to a single fire yet to be determined, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre in Boise, Idaho.

Fire managers asked for the mobilisation - the first of its kind since 2006 - as crews from federal, state and local agencies struggled to contain many of the wildfires that have charred more than 405,000ha amid a heatwave gripping the drought-parched region.

More than 29,000 civilian fire personnel are already deployed, most of them on front-line ground crews.

Property losses were concentrated in Idaho, Oregon and Washington states, with 108 homes confirmed as destroyed since last Friday, the authorities said.

Among the areas hardest hit was northern Idaho, where an elderly evacuee died and at least 50 homes were razed by a cluster of fires that have raged along the Clearwater River in and around the Nez Perce Indian Reservation since last week.

The fatality was identified as Ms Cheryl Wissler, 70, who was trying to secure her backyard chickens before fleeing with her husband when she fell and hit her head, said police.

The so-called Clearwater Complex of fires has scorched more than 20,000ha of timber and brush and prompted the evacuation of more than 100 homes .

Loggers and farmers went to the assistance of volunteer firefighters battling to save property and livestock in the town of Kamiah and surrounding communities.

"I saw guys, just farmers and ranchers who'd come in from other towns to help, running through flames to cut open barbed-wire fences and opening barns to let animals out," said Undersheriff Jim Gorges.

He was part of a team who rode on all-terrain vehicles, a motorised raft and other equipment on Sunday to evacuate firefighters trapped between the banks of the Clearwater River and encroaching flames.

The Clearwater was one of 14 major wildfires burning across Idaho and one of about 95 in seven western states, the bulk of them in Washington, Oregon, Montana and California, the Interagency Fire Centre said. Little, if any, containment had been achieved on many of those blazes on Monday, the agency said.

At least another 32 homes were destroyed by a separate series of fires in Washington state.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'US calls in troops as firefighters struggle against huge wildfires'. Print Edition | Subscribe