More than 3,000 residents volunteer as Washington firefighters

Washington officials say more than 3,000 people responded to the call for volunteers to fight the wildfires raging across the state. 

David Ryder/Reuters
Firefighters flee as the Twisp River fire advances unexpectedly near Twisp, Wash., Aug. 20, 2015. Washington officials say more than 3,000 people called and emailed in response to the state’s request for volunteer help with wildfires.

For the first time ever, Washington State has asked for volunteers to help fight the raging wildfires devastating the state.

More than 3,000 people responded to the request through calls and emails, the Associated Press reported.

Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) put out the call as a flurry of wildfires raged unchecked in the Pacific Northwest, placing a severe strain on state resources.

"If people want to help, we'd like them to contact our coordinators so we can work on getting them safely and appropriately involved," said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. "We appreciate all offers of qualified and trained support. Safety for everyone is our highest priority."

The DNR says it is being flooded with volunteers who want to offer a helping hand.

"“They’ve been just kind of constantly coming in," said Joe Smillie, a department spokesman, to the Los Angeles Times. "We’ve had people come in with everything from a backhoe or a water tender or an old fashioned fire truck to people with nothing but boots and a strong back, as they say."

 As volunteers poured in, the department clarified that it needed qualified applicants.

"In less than a day, an unprecedented outpouring of volunteers has inundated both [volunteer] centers, far outpacing the few available staff to process and deploy qualified volunteers," the department said on its Facebook page. "We want to reiterate that we are seeking those with firefighting expertise only – particularly those who currently hold, or have previously held, red or blue card certifications."

On Friday, President Obama declared the the Washington fires a federal emergency, which enables the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to offer additional assistance and resources like emergency power generation, properly functioning equipment, health and safety inspections, and more.

“This declaration is welcome news for the communities on the front lines battling the wildfires,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement. “With the high danger the firefighters are experiencing it is crucial we maintain our communications and power equipment.”

Earlier this week, officials from The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, announced that they have enlisted the help of 70 fire managers and specialists from Australia and New Zealand to help fight the unrelenting blazes. 

Three firefighters died in the north-central area of state on Wednesday, bringing to 13 the number of firefighters killed across the West this year. Thousands have been forced to evacuate, and more than a hundred homes have been destroyed so far. 

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