National Guard to relieve fire crews

July 2, 2008 7:34:05 PM PDT
More help is coming to fire lines around the state as National Guard soldiers, called up for fire duty by the Governor, are quickly being trained for the job.

Soon, 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 our state, to serve our state. And I'm kind of glad the Governor stepped up and said, 'Hey, let's do this,'" said Sergeant Chris Kalba, from the California National Guard.

After Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of California 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 two to three 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 Schwarzenegger.

About 200 California National Guardsmen are already helping with aerial attacks in fires all over the state.

In fact, a fresh group from Mather Field is training to do water drops and could be pulled into duty shortly. Still, the new ground troops will need to be trained in what's called mop up work, to come in behind actual firefighters, to douse flare-ups.

"That will free up the type one's or the hotshot hand crews, to go out and fight fire where it's needed the most," said Chief Candace Gregory from CAL FIRE.

Whether it is helping with Iraq, airport and border security, earthquakes or 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?' They move forward and have tremendous initiative, lean forward to save lives and property," said Colonial Terry Knight, with the California National Guard.

Send us your photos
If you have pictures of this fire or any other fire burning in the Bay Area, we want to hear from you. Send them to photos@kgo-tv.com and we'll feature them on-air and online.

MORE: ABC7's Bay Area wildfire resource guide and safety tips
MAP: Google Reference Map of California Fires
(From the Governor's Office of Emergency Services).


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