National Guard will be trained to fight wildfires

In preparation for a potentially explosive fire season as Oregon continues to roast under a broiling July sun, Gov. Ted Kulongoski is activating more than 300 Oregon National Guard troops from around the state to attend firefighting training.

"We've seen very active fire seasons for our neighbors to the north and south, and we may face a similar situation in Oregon," Kulongoski said Tuesday in a prepared statement. "We have robust resources already in place, but I want to ensure we have the ability to respond with additional support if needed."

All told, up to 330 volunteers from the Guard's Army and Air branches will train for a week beginning Sunday to receive Firefighter II certification, according to Guard spokesman Capt. Stephen Bomar.

Upon completing their training with representatives of the Oregon Department of Forestry, U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, they can be deployed to a fire within 48-hour notice as part of 20-person firefighting hand crews after the governor declares a state of emergency, Bomar said.

Their main tasks will be to strengthen fire lines and support agency firefighters, he added.

"That certification allows them to get out on the fire line and help extinguish a fire," Bomar said. "We're getting volunteers from all over the state. Guardsmen are stepping forward to make this happen."

Training will be held at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Camp Rilea near Astoria and at the Pendleton Armory in Pendleton. The weeklong training includes two courses teaching wildland fire behavior as well as other entry-level safety and firefighting skills. The Forest Service and the state of Oregon are funding the training.

Although Oregon's fire season has been relatively calm thus far, the latter part of the summer often brings the worst fires, officials said.

"It's better to be prepared," Bomar said.

While the Guard members are being trained to fight fires in Oregon, other states may summon them through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact if they are not needed in Oregon, he said. The agreement among several states provides mutual support during emergencies.

For instance, Oregon recently provided fire crews and a CH-47 Chinook helicopter capable of dumping 2,000 gallons of water at a time to California through the agreement.

"Containment levels are increasing in California, and Oregon is having a slower fire season, but the potential for fires is still there," Kulongoski said. "This training is about being fully prepared."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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