CA National Guard Starts Fire Training

July 2, 2008 9:08:30 PM PDT
Members of the California National Guard will begin reporting for duty Wednesday evening to relieve exhausted crews who have been battling the many wildfires burning around the state.On Wednesday night, the California National Guard will begin firefighting training. About 200 will eventually be helping exhausted firefighters on the ground. The state hasn't used troops in this way in three decades.

"This is our mission. This is what we're here for. We're here for the state ... To serve our state. And I'm kind of glad the governor stepped up and said, 'hey, let's do this,'" said Sgt. Chris Kalba with the California National Guard.

After Governor Schwarzenegger was briefed on the Big Sur Fire, he said fire seasons are different now and require different kinds of responses; including tapping into a valuable resource, one that's used to being pulled in for all sorts of emergencies. "In the last 2-3 years, we've seen there's really no fire season anymore. It used to be late summer through fall that we have fires. But now it's all year round," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

About 200 California National Guardsmen are already helping with aerial attacks in fires all over the state. In fact, this fresh group is training to do water drops and could be pulled into duty shortly. But the new ground troops still need to be trained in what's called mop up work. They will come in behind actual firefighters to douse flare-ups. "That will free up the type 1's; The hotshot hand crews to go out and fight fire where it's needed the most," said Chief Candace Gregory.

Iraq, airport & border security, earthquakes, floods? They don't mind the state adding yet another task on their already full plate despite limited experience with fires. "They walk into things like Katrina that offer up all kinds of new things. And they didn't stand around saying: 'how are we going to do this?' the move forward and have tremendous initiative, lean forward to save lives and property," said Terry Knight with the California National Guard.

While the 200 newly ordered guardsmen will be assigned to the fires for about three to four weeks, they will stay as long as they're needed.


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