JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Washington National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are transitioning from COVID-19 response and civil disturbance missions to prepare for what could be another catastrophic wildfire season.
“We have been actively responding for the past 15 months to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the adjutant general. “With vaccination rates improving and the state getting set to reopen in June, we are shifting our focus back to supporting our fight against summer fires.”
This year, more than 200 Washington National Guard members will participate in Red Card certification training with the Washington Department of Natural Resources. The Washington National Guard has supported DNR with strike teams during seven of the past eight fire seasons.
“The Guard has been a force multiplier,” said Fire Academy Manager Brian Looper, who works for the DNR. “Their hand crews and helicopters have been a huge part of our efforts every year.”
Since 2013, more than 4,500 Washington National Guard members have been activated to help fight wildfires. This year is being described as a drought year, which has resulted in an early start to wildfires.
“This year is already heating up,” Hilary Franz, commissioner of public lands, wrote in a Facebook post. “We have already been out on a number of wildfires here in Washington.”
Last year, 100 Guard members were activated in September to help with fires in the Northport area. Helicopter crews were activated a month before and supported five firefighting efforts across the state, including the Sumner Grade Fire that threatened hundreds of homes in the Bonney Lake area.
“We have been here to answer the call during wildfire season in the past, and this year we are hearing it could be another historic year,” said Daugherty. “We are getting our Guardsmen ready now, trained, equipped and on standby for when they get the call.”