Active duty soldiers to help fight wildfires in US

2015-08-18 18:25
A business sign thanks firefighters, outside of Chelan, Washington. (AP)

A business sign thanks firefighters, outside of Chelan, Washington. (AP)

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Los Angeles - US fire authorities on Monday called up active duty soldiers to help battle more than 4 000km² of wildfires burning in California and other western states.

The Pentagon said it would provide 200 active duty soldiers to help with a fire in Washington state, according to news reports.

It is the first time since 2006 the National Interagency Fire Centre (NIFC) has called on the US military to send soldiers to help fight fires.

About 440 California National Guard soldiers and airmen also have been activated to help the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection fight fires throughout the state, Pentagon spokesperson Navy Captain Jeff Davis said.

Local firefighting agencies have been stretched to the limit by one of the worst summer wildfire seasons in memory. Wildfires have burned more than 28 000km² in the United States in 2015, the most to this date in at least a decade.

More than 95 large fires - those greater than 40km² of forest or 120km² of grassland - were blazing out of control in 11 US states, including the western states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, the NIFC said.

Nearly 405km² were ablaze in the north-western state of Washington, where six wildfires surrounding the city of Chelan threatened more than 150 homes, CBS News reported. More than 1 500 people had fled the city.

Two people died while fleeing fires in Washington and Idaho, according to media reports.

Four years of severe drought in the western US have shrivelled fields and forests, turning them into ready fuel. Lightning storms with little or no rain have ignited dozens of fires which spread quickly in hot, dry weather.

On August 13, US authorities raised the nation's fire alert to 5, its highest level. The NIFC said weather conditions conducive to fire were expected to continue for several weeks.

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