Military, National Guard join Western firefighters

Matt Eagen
Washington National Guard Sgt. Matt Eagen checks under a large rock for hotspots on a hillside as he fights the First Creek Fire, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, near Chelan, Wash. The troops in Washington state were part of a massive response to blazes burning throughout the West. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

CHELAN, Washington (AP) — National Guard troops used shovels and axes to dig fire lines as they joined hundreds of people fighting huge, destructive fires near this central Washington resort town.

The guard units working in Washington Tuesday were part of a massive response to blazes burning unchecked throughout the West.

The situation is so urgent that the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise this week called in 200 active-duty military troops to help contain roughly 95 wildfires. It’s the first time since 2006 that the agency has mobilized soldiers for fire-suppression.

Outside Chelan, the Guard units helped set controlled burns to use up fuel as helicopters dropped water. More than 1,000 people worked to protect homes from the lightning-sparked blazes that began last week, have burned more than 170 square miles (440 sq. kilometers) and destroyed an estimated 75 buildings.

A lightning-sparked fire in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest has grown to 63 square miles (160 sq. kilometers) and destroyed at least 26 houses. An additional 500 structures are threatened by the flames near the community of John Day, also in Oregon.

In the Northern Rockies, so many wildfires have ignited this month that officials are letting some that might be suppressed under normal circumstances burn because manpower and equipment are committed elsewhere.

As of Tuesday, at least 95 fires were burning in Montana and Idaho, about 30 of them considered large, according to the Northern Rockies Coordination Center in Missoula.

That included a group of fires in northern Idaho that have scorched 90 square miles (230 sq. kilometers) and destroyed 42 homes in the last several days, as well as a wildfire in the western part of the state that led about 120 residents to evacuate and others to prepare to flee near McCall.

California is doing well in terms of resources, despite a pair of massive blazes in the north. Officials prepared for a drought-fueled fire season by bringing in several hundred more firefighters than in previous years.

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Geranios reported from Spokane, Washington. Associated Press writers Matt Volz in Helena, Montana, and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

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