Preliminary plans for military and international aid come as the US Forest Service is feeling the pinch of federal budget cuts known as sequestration even as demand for firefighters and equipment such as air tankers is exceeding supply, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.
Elite teams of firefighters known as hotshots and smoke jumpers, whose job it is to mount the initial attack on blazes in remote, rugged terrain, are stretched too thin, said Stephen Gage, assistant operations director for fire and aviation management for the Forest Service.
The agency's 100-plus hotshot crews are all either assigned to fires in the West or are taking required periods of rest and recovery, leaving no spare teams to dispatch to any additional fires where they might be needed, he said.
"We have just a limited number of those assets. We'd love to give everybody what they need when they ask for it," he said. "Deciding which area gets those highly skilled crews and which doesn't is the hardest thing we do."
Fire managers are poised to decide in coming days whether to "pull the trigger" on a pending request to the U.S. military for an initial deployment of 200 ground troops to supplement firefighting personnel, Gage said. It would take roughly a week to train and mobilize those troops, who would then be assigned to large fires in the West.
Thousands of firefighters were laboring on Thursday to suppress dozens of blazes raging in several Western states, from a monster fire menacing the area around the world-class ski resort in Sun Valley, Idaho, to a California blaze near Yosemite National Park that more than tripled in size overnight.
Meanwhile, weather forecasters have predicted heightened wildfire risks for northern California, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies posed by storm systems likely to bring lightning and strong winds.
US fire managers this week opened the way to potentially seeking military aid and gaining firefighting resources stemming from agreements with Canada,
The 2013 fire season has already seen the most destructive fire in Colorado history, the deadliest blaze on record in Arizona and has forced the evacuation of many thousands across the region.
Years of drought have played a key role in the ignition and spread of blazes that fire managers say stand out for their intensity and speed, even as the overall acreage burned remains below the 10-year average.
Voice of Russia, Reuters