As of Monday morning, at least 13 large fires burned across the central and eastern portion of Washington, while 11 burned across Oregon. All told, 65 major wildfires are currently burning across seven Western states. According to the National Interagency Fire Center statistics, more than 27,000 firefighters are deployed across the country. To date, this years’ fire season has burned 7,487,737 total acres, more than any other season in the last 10 years.
“Nationally, the system is pretty tapped,” Rob Allen, the deputy incident commander for the fires around the Cascade Mountain resort town of Chelan, told the Associated Press last Wednesday. “Everything is being used right now, so competition for resources is fierce.”
Last week, for the first time since 2006, the National Interagency Fire Center mobilized 200 active-duty military troops to help control the fires that are spreading throughout the West. Along with active-duty soldiers, members of the National Guard and Air Force have already been called to help fight the fires. This weekend, dozens of firefighters from Australia and New Zealand were deployed to help fight blazes in Idaho, Washington, Montana, Oregon, and California. This isn’t the first time that firefighters have come from Australia to help fight U.S. fires — under an exchange program, Australian firefighters have come to the United States 11 times since 2000, according to the Strait Times.
The military and foreign firefighters will provide crucial manpower for Western firefighting teams that have all but exhausted their local resources. Last week, the Los Angeles Times published a story about Rick Anderson, a fire chief in Stevens County, Washington who was forced to fight a fire with just 11 other firefighters and pickup trucks carrying 300-gallon water tanks. When Anderson called surrounding fire agencies to ask for reinforcements, he was told that none had extra manpower to spare — they were all busy fighting their own fires.
Anderson’s story is just one example of a fire season that has pushed local and federal fire agencies to the brink.
“It’s like the fire season gas pedal has been pushed to the floor in a really short period of time, and that’s stressed our resources,” Ken Frederick, a spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center, told the Associated Press. “And that’s got us relying on help from resources we don’t normally use.”
More wildfires, more firefighters needed to battle them. The costs in money, property, and of course lives will only continue to increase as climate change and growing populations in Western US states makes droughts worse, taxes water and infrastructure resources, and leads to more incidents of accidents with fire and in some cases arson.
Welcome to the new normal.