CAMP MURRAY, Wash. — The Washington National Guard and service members from the Kingdom of Thailand shared best practices for fighting wildfires during a State Partnership Program exchange in March.
Since 2003, the Washington National Guard and Thailand have engaged in many informational exchanges, learning and training with one another. The latest exchange was just their second wildland firefighting exchange.
Washington state wildfire seasons range from routine to historical, with an average of over 240,000 acres burned yearly. Wildland fires are caused naturally — such as lightning — or by humans and result in the uncontrolled destruction of forests, brush, field crops, grasslands and real and personal property.
The season, which usually begins in early July and culminates in late September when regular rain returns, often has over 1,500 wildfire responses. To prepare for the wildland fire season, the Washington National Guard, in partnership with the Washington Department of Natural Resources, prepares 200 Guard members for possible deployment each spring.
Wildland fire seasons in the Kingdom of Thailand have become more common in the past decade. The peak season typically begins in early February and lasts around 13 weeks, ravaging much of the country, including the agriculturally based northern provinces. During the season, dry weather can cause vegetation to turn dry and flammable. Any spark can start a fire, whether from lightning, discarded cigarettes, campfires, or, more commonly, the intentional burning of agricultural land gone out of control.
This common threat is why the Washington National Guard, the Royal Thai Army, the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the Royal Thai Forestry Department discussed fire management practices. The one-day virtual exchange covered fire operations, weather forecasting and incident weather, fuels mitigation, prescribed burning, risk mitigation and public information operations.
“The Washington National Guard Wildland Firefighting Exchange Team is hopeful that this builds relationships and opportunities in the future,” said Col. Amanda Doyle, team lead for the exchange. “Thailand and Washington have several similarities in the impacts of wildfires on the economy, public opinion and safety within our borders. Any chance we have to share information and learn from each other is beneficial.”
A team of Washington National Guard wildland firefighters also met in person in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand for a week-long exchange with counterparts in the Royal Thai Army and the Royal Thai Forestry Department. They discussed firefighting tools and resources and shared best practices for firefighting hand crew organization, tasks and medical evacuation.
“In my opinion, the most productive exchange topic was showing them how seriously we take safety, from how we use our tools to attack the job at hand to being in an organized crew with a clear task and relative information on the mission down to the Soldier level,” said Spc. Austin Miller, 176th Engineer Company. “The exchange of information on tactics in each of our unique firefighting environments was great, too. I really hope to do more hands-on work with the Thai Army firefighters in the future.”