WASHINGTON -- Two hundred active-duty Soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, will join firefighting lines as early as Aug. 13, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning III told reporters yesterday.

The Soldiers -- from the 14th Engineer Battalion -- will be organized in 10 crews of 20 each, Manning said. They will all be assigned the same fire.

"Currently, four military C-130 [Hercules aircraft] equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems are serving as large air tankers and are operating from Sacramento's McClellan Airport in California," he said. An RC-26 Metroliner aircraft, he added, is also helping the Forest Service to detect and monitor wildfires in the Western states. That aircraft flies from Spokane, Washington.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, requested the active-duty military help. Thousands of National Guardsmen throughout the region are already involved with the firefighting effort.

HIGH LEVEL OF WILDFIRE ACTIVITY

There are more than 134 wildfires now burning on about 1.6 million acres in 11 Western states. The NIFC has placed the national preparedness level at 5 -- the highest level. This indicates a high level of wildfire activity and a high level of commitment of wildfire suppression assets.

"Weather and fuel conditions are predicted to continue being conducive to wildfire ignitions and spread in most of the Western U.S. for the next several weeks," officials at the center said in a release.

"These Soldiers will be outfitted with wildland fire protective equipment … and all of the gear that they will need to serve as wildland firefighters," Manning said. "They will be trained by wildland firefighting personnel."

On the fire line, the Soldiers will be directed by experienced wildland fire strike team leaders and crew bosses.

Service members have helped on fire lines many times. Since 1987, active-duty military personnel have been mobilized to serve as wildland firefighters a total of 37 times. Last year, 200 Soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division based at JBLM were mobilized to work on the North Umpqua Complex wildfires in Oregon for 30 days.