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Kansas soldiers come to help

'Taskforce Destroyer' helps beef up the firefighting force on the Tiller Complex fires

TILLER ' They're not in Kansas anymore, but that's okay with 540 members of the First Battalion, Fifth Field Artillery of the U.S. Army.

Usually stationed in Fort Riley, Kan., the all-male battalion was called in last week for some hand-to-hand combat with the Tiller Complex fires in Douglas County, north of the Timbered Rock Fire near Trail.

The view and the weather here are much better than Fort Reilly, said Capt. Michael Brock. Let's move here.

Brock and other members of Taskforce Destroyer have helped beef up the contingent battling this collection of 19 fires ' dubbed the Killer Tiller Fire by crews.

One of our problems has been not having enough resources available because of all the other fires, said fire spokesperson Pam Sichting.

Some 1,600 personnel are now on hand to combat the blaze, which has burned almost 30,000 acres. At 25 percent containment, Sichting said crews expect to be at full containment by Aug. 16.

Five homes in Ash Valley have been threatened, but firelines and burnouts have strengthened protection near the residences.

Campground areas are still threatened.

The Tiller Complex started on July 12 when lightning strikes ignited 116 separate fires.

A few fires went out, but others merged into the 19 active fires ' the biggest of which are the Boulder at 16,493 acres and the Acker at 3,565.

Because some of the fires are so remote, no crews are working on them, and aircraft operations are also at a minimum because of dense smoke.

Sichting said the battalion is not the only thing that has come to the aid of fire crews.

The cooler weather gives us an opportunity to catch up here, she said.

The battalion arrived Thursday to mop up, help with backfires and do whatever was necessary.

Captain Sherry Reed, spokesperson for the battalion, said this Red Cycle Unit would normally be on watch, mowing lawns or taking out the garbage back in Kansas.

We asked them, 'What would you rather do, this or red cycle,' she said. They answered, 'This.'

Fire crews gave the Tiller Complex the nickname Killer Tiller because of the steep and inaccessible terrain, she said.

The battalion is one of the oldest in the United States, originating in 1776. At that time, it was called Hamilton's Own after Capt. Alexander Hamilton, one of the founders of the country.

Other than the battalion, 1,164 personnel are helping with the blaze complex

Fire officials have closed the South Umpqua Highway to the public at milepost 6 at the Johnny Springs Junction. Property owners and residents are still allowed access. Highway 227 to Trail remains open.

Another nearby fire, the North Umpqua Complex, is now considered 100 percent contained. It has burned 1,663 acres.

Pfc. GarrickShyne of Muskegon, Mich., is one of 540 members of the U.S. Army from Fort Riley, Kan., who are working against the Tiller Complex of fires in Douglas County. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven