Soldiers Dispatched to Help Fight Washington Wildfires

Soldiers from Fort Lewis were receiving additional training Tuesday before being sent to the front lines of two fires that have blackened more than 140 square miles in north central Washington state.

The 550 U.S. Army troops from Task Force Blaze, commanded by Lt. Colonel Ricky Love, arrived in the area late Monday and were to receive an additional two days of training before joining line operations on Thursday, the U.S. Forest Service said.

The Tripod Complex of fires between Winthrop and Conconully grew to nearly 90,000 acres Monday.

The troops received basic fire training at Fort Lewis and will be assigned to 20-person crews to mop-up, build fire lines and patrol for hotspots.

"We appreciate the military's approval of this request, considering their other current taskings," said Karyn Wood, a spokeswoman at the National Interagency Fire Center at Boise, Idaho. "Adding 25 fresh crews to the mix of resources will really help us make progress on the Tripod Complex."

A shortage of local firefighting crews and unfavorable weather forecasts prompted the fire center in Boise to request help last week. Soldiers are expected be deployed for up to a month, said Army Maj. Cathy Wilkinson, a 1st Corps plans and operations officer.

By Tuesday morning, crews had dug lines around 25 percent of the Tripod and Spur Peak fires, which officials said had not merged, as they originally estimated earlier this month.

The fires are in the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forest, with the northeast corner spread in the Loomis State Forest. Mike Ferris, spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Incident Management Team, said the south part of the fire that had been threatening Winthrop was secure.

There are more than 2,330 firefighters assigned to the blazes caused by July lightning strikes.

In central Washington, the Flick Creek fire near Stehekin on Lake Chelan was 50 percent trailed Tuesday at about 4,350 acres, or about 6.7 square miles. Almost two dozen firefighters were on the scene.

Crews were managing the 4,523-acre Tinpan fire along the Entiat River trail as a wildland-use fire, meaning it will be allowed to burn naturally unless it threatens to run outside preset boundaries.

The fire has burned 40 miles northwest of the town of Entiat in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. About 170 personnel were assigned to the fire.

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