Story highlights

NEW: 500 people ordered to evacuate Santa Margarita in central California, CalFire official says

NEW: Fire destroyed fruit processing plant that's largest employer in Chelan, Washington

For the first time since 2006, active military personnel will be used to fight wildfires

CNN  — 

About 200 active duty military personnel will help battle blazes in Western states, the National Interagency Fire Center said. It’s the first time soldiers have fought wildfires since 2006.

This is the first time soldiers have fought wildfires since 2006, and the call out shows how bad the problem has become.

About 95 fires have destroyed hundreds of homes and scorched 1.1 million acres in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada and Colorado, the center said.

The soldiers will handle “quiet parts of the fire,” center spokesman Ken Frederick said.

“That’s important because it frees up our more experienced crews to handle more complex dangerous fire situations,” he said. Soldiers “could be mopping up, watching for and waiting to put out spot fires and digging fire lines.”

The soldiers will come from the 17th Field Artillery Brigade, 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington – one of the worst-hit states.

Active duty soldiers have been used to fight wildfires 35 times since 1987, the National Interagency Fire Center said.

“The U.S. military has been a key partner in wildland firefighting for decades, and we greatly appreciate their willingness to provide us with soldiers to serve as firefighters,” said Aitor Bidaburu, chairman of the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group.

The military is also providing C-130s equipped to drop large quantities of fire retardant.

The NIFC fire alert level has hit the highest level – last reached August 20, 2013, the NIFC said. Drought and scorching heat indicate a continued spread of fires

Here’s a breakdown of what’s happening in four of the most devastated states:


Four years of drought have helped make California a tinder box for at least 19 wildfires.

On Monday, 500 people were ordered to evacuate Santa Margarita, a small town in the central part of the state, said Bennet Milloy of CalFire. So far, no homes have been damaged by the fire that started Sunday and has burned 500 acres, he said.

One of the largest blazes, the Route Complex, has torched 28,401 acres and was 28% contained Monday, authorities said.

The fire, which affected areas around Mad River, Dinsmore and Hyampom, started last month following a lightning storm.

Another blaze, the Mad River Complex, comprises seven fires that started last month after a lightning storm hit northern California.

By Monday, it had burned about 23,000 acres and was 65% contained. Two buildings were destroyed and five people injured.

In Fresno County, the Sheriff’s Office ordered the evacuation of the Black Rock Reservoir area, including the popular Black Rock Campground.

In California’s Angeles National Forest, 10 firefighters were evacuated with minor injuries.

In Montebello, a man was charged with unlawfully causing a fire after a blaze burned 370 acres on Monday, damaging 10 utility poles and leaving about 60 people without power, CNN affiliate KABC reported.

From January 1 through August 8, at least 4,382 fires have burned more than 117,900 acres, according to CalFire. Over the same period last year, there were 3,047 fires that burned 87,988 acres.


The Soda Fire has razed more than 283,000 acres in the southeast corner of the state. But a drop in winds Monday helped firefighters contain 90% of the blaze, according to the national fire-tracking website InciWeb.

No injuries have been reported, but 27 wild horses were killed, according to CNN affiliate KIVI-TV.

In northwest Idaho, the Lawyer Complex Fire near Kamiah has destroyed 50 homes, according to the state’s Department of Lands.

So far, it is 15% contained, with more than 770 people working to bring the flames under control. It includes the Old Greer, Kamiah Gulch, Lawyer 6 and Adams Grade fires, across a combined total of around 20,759 acres.

Mandatory evacuations remain in place around Kamiah.


Gov. Kate Brown has invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act in response to the Canyon Creek Complex Fire, which has charred more than 40,000 acres in eastern Oregon.

With this move, the state fire marshal can mobilize fire resources from around the state to protect homes. At least 14 major fires were burning Monday in Oregon, the governor said.

At least 26 homes have been destroyed in the Canyon Creek fire, Brown’s office said, with 500 more homes threatened. About 300 people have evacuated.

One homeowner said he was helpless to stop the fire.

“There was nothing we could do – it was gone,” Canyon Creek resident Dean Fox told CNN affiliate KTVZ-TV. “Embers were straight at me. We would have to keep hosing ourselves down because it was so hot.”

The fire was caused by lightning. About 475 firefighters have been trying to tame it.


Wind-pushed fires around Chelan and McNeil Canyon, a resort area in central Washington state, burned 38,793 acres and were 30% contained, according to InciWeb. About 50 homes have been destroyed and 1,500 people are under evacuation orders.

But the fires dealt a painful blow to the local economy when it destroyed the processing plant for Chelan Fruit Inc., Chelan’s largest employer. The fire also burned a winery and lumber yard, KIRO said.

Dave Lewman, an employee, told CNN affiliate KIRO about 1,000 people worked for the company.

“My grandfather is part of this operation. My dad, my brother used to be part of it,” he told KIRO.

The fire also burned a winery and lumber yard, KIRO said.

Paul Smythe lost almost everything when the fire destroyed his house in Chelan.

“I put everything I could in my car, got the animals and we bailed out,” he told CNN affiliate KCPQ-TV.

When he later drove by his house, “everything was gone.”

The fires plunged 9,000 homes into darkness in Washington state on Sunday after flames engulfed utility poles outside Chelan.

On Monday, Chelan officials said they’d restored power to all but 600 customers in the Chelan Valley, according to CNN affiliate KXLY.

Lightning strikes started the fires Friday morning, said Jim Duck of the Central Washington Interagency Communication Center.

Eleven separate wildfires forced the closure of the Pacific Crest Trail between Glacier Pass and Holman Pass.

Over 1,000 people have fled Chelan County as the wildfires destroy homes, CNN affiliate KPHO said.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources said that as of August 11, there have been 751 fires on DNR-protected lands, with 628 of them caused by human activity.

By this time last year, the state had seen 565 fires, with 455 of those caused by humans.

‘A tinderbox’: Firefighter dies as thousands battle California wildfires

CNN’s Joe Sutton and Sam Stringer contributed to this report.