Virginia Wildfires Bring Out More Guard Responders

By Tech. Sgt. Mike R. Smith, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 11, 2008 - Fighting wildfires in Virginia became the newest mission for members of the National Guard, who were dealing with many domestic emergencies as the new week began.

More than 500 members of the National Guard were on weather-related duty in the South and West, as well as in Virginia, because of call-ups from governors in nine states for emergency assistance to communities hit by tornadoes, heavy snow and floods.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine declared a state of emergency yesterday when high winds fanned wildfires across the state. The Virginia Department of Forestry estimated that at least 200 fires had burned nearly 6,000 acres from Virginia Beach to Roanoke to Fairfax County.

Virginia Guard soldiers responded with two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters equipped with 2,000-gallon buckets to spread water over the flames. At least 110 soldiers reported to Fort Pickett, southwest of Richmond, for firefighting training today. They're expected to help the Virginia Department of Forestry beginning tomorrow.

National Guard units in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana continued recovery operations in their communities through the weekend and into today, six days after thunderstorms and tornados crippled the states with power outages, destroyed infrastructure, homes and businesses and flooded multiple counties across Indiana.

In Kentucky, four Guard members continued to operate a mobile command post in Muhlenberg County, while 82 soldiers from the 307th Maintenance Company continued to support state and local law enforcement agencies at traffic control points.

At least 50 Arkansas Guard soldiers and airmen continued their recovery missions in Stone and Van Buren counties through the weekend. Guard officials said the state's five ongoing missions are anticipated to last through this week as the Guard continues to support civil authorities.

Arkansas Guard soldiers are providing emergency power for the courthouse and city hall in Mountain View and for the county landfill and Irving Clinic in Stone County. Soldiers in Clinton and Van Buren counties are supporting security operations by state and local law enforcement agencies.

The Tennessee National Guard had 146 Guard members supporting civilian emergency response agencies with debris removal in Macon, Trousdale and Sumner counties. Many are operating from a support base and civilian shelter at the Lafayette Armory.

At least 24 soldiers in Indiana were called out after a tornado and other high winds caused damage in Jackson, Decatur and Putnam counties. Guard officials said flood conditions were taking a toll on the infrastructure, with numerous reports of damaged and washed-out roads, bridges and railroad tracks.

Soldiers were positioning a sandbag machine in Kokomo, and 18 soldiers deployed to areas in Sullivan County to assist with sandbagging operations. Officials expected to shift operations to the southern part of the state today.

In the West, nearly 70 Guard members in Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington continued snow removal operations.

In Idaho, where snow levels deepened to dangerous levels, 45 Guard members were shoveling snow from the roofs of 30 buildings and operating loaders and other heavy equipment in Bonner, Shoshone and Kootenai counties.

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mike R. Smith serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

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