State sends soldiers and equipment to aid California wildfire response

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A firefighter watches as a helicopter drops water on the Lake Hughes fire in Angeles National Forest on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, north of Santa Clarita, Calif. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Six Illinois National Guard soldiers, as well as equipment and a helicopter, are headed to California to help efforts to contain wildfires that have broken out in the northern part of the state.

The team — comprised of first responders hailing from Peoria — will be deployed to California for 14 days.

According to a release from the governor’s office, the helicopter is a CH-47F Chinook. It’s described as “a versatile, twin-engine, tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopter.”  The unit comes equipped with a Bambi Bucket which can hold 2,000 gallons of water for fire suppression missions. 

The team, which includes two pilots, two crew members to operate the Bambi Bucket and two maintenance personnel, will also provide operational assistance for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE).

The LNU Lightning Complex fire in northern California has charred more than 350,000 acres, destroyed nearly 1,000 structures, forced the evacuation of thousands and already claimed five lives.  Rising temperatures could fuel this raging fire over the coming days and into the weekend.

“This spring, California Governor Gavin Newsom came to our state’s aid by loaning Illinois 100 ventilators in our time of need, and right now we have an opportunity to return the favor,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “California first responders are not only battling wildfires, they’re doing so in a COVID environment under the threat of severe heat and rolling blackouts.  Our team of Illinois National Guard airmen will be coming in to provide additional manpower and equipment to help tackle this disaster.  Our airmen are well-trained for these types of missions and will be a valuable resource for the Golden State.”  

Requests for assistance are coordinated through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), a mutual aid agreement that allows states to request assistance from other states during emergencies.  Officials from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) have been in regular contact with their Californian counterparts and remain committed to meet additional needs of the state of California.

“In a period when states are stretched thin due in terms of personnel and resources due to extensive or repetitive disasters, EMAC becomes a vital tool to bolster manpower, expertise and various other resources needed for disaster response,” IEMA Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau said in a press release. “EMAC allows states to help other states be safe, secure and resilient against all hazards. That partnership and collaboration is more important now than ever before.”

The ILNG unit will depart Saturday from Peoria Air Wing after receiving event identification, mission and safety briefings and mobilization assistance. This process ensures the accountability and readiness of personnel and state assets prior to departure.

All costs associated with these deployments will be paid for by California.

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