By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va. – The first group of 200 California National Guard members called out by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for direct, ground fire line support July 1 have competed their classroom training and are ready to deploy for hands-on training tomorrow, said California National Guard officials here today.
Answering two call ups by Schwarzenegger for additional wild land fire assistance last week, 400 California National Guard members joined or were preparing to join the more than 20,000 civilian, ground-based firefighters and support personnel today engaged in extinguishing 330 active fires charring the state.
Officials said that the addition of Guardmembers at the fire lines will help relieve "overburdened and exhausted" firefighters on the ground. It's the first time California Guard members have formally deployed for the governor to a fire line in nearly three decades.
"I have ordered additional California National Guard Soldiers to provide direct ground support to our firefighters in their efforts," said Schwarzenegger. "These additional Soldiers will bring much needed assistance to the efforts of the firefighters who continue to tirelessly battle the blazes across California."
Nearly 1,000 National Guard members are supporting numerous firefighting operations in California. Since June 21, at least 32 Guard fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft and aircrews from more than half a dozen states have repeatedly joined state and federal agencies battling wild land blazes from the state's smoke-filled skies.
The Guard's aerial missions have dropped more than 1.7 million gallons of water and fire retardant in and around the state's wild land fires.
Most recently, aircrews from the California Guard's 129th Rescue Wing joined the air battle as the state's first combat search and rescue wing to qualify and carry 660-gallon buckets of water to the wild fires.
The recent introduction of National Guard ground forces into the fire fight includes 200 Soldiers who trained at the state's Wild Land Fire Training Center at the former McClellan Air Force Base.
"The California National Guard is actively engaged in responding to the wildfires in Northern California by providing assistance to local authorities and to the citizens of the affected communities," said Maj. Gen. William Wade, the California Guard's adjutant general. “We continue to do this through air assets and personnel and equipment on the ground. The California Guard is proud of its ability to respond rapidly to those citizens affected by this horrible disaster.”
Officials said the Soldiers were trained by the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CAL FIRE) personnel in fire behavior, fire safety and how to create fire containment lines using hand tools. The Soldiers will be issued equipment tomorrow and conduct hands-on fire training today at a "cold-line" section where wild fires have previously burned. A majority of the Soldiers are from the 100th Troop Command and the 115th Regional Support Group.
"It will be tough work, tedious and dangerous," said Col. Terry Knight (ret.), director of community relations for the California Guard. "They are getting hot and heavy as we speak."
Knight said a primary function for the two teams will be to construct fire lines, by hand, in places heavy equipment cannot reach. Still, other Guard officials said the Guardmembers will also provide follow up support and may possibly end up fighting active wild fires.
Officials said an additional 200 California Guard Soldiers, called out by the governor July 4, are the next group to train with CAL FIRE at McClellan for ground firefighting support.
Other California Guard forces on the ground are providing truck transportation and command and control personnel for civilian responders. Eight California Guard bulldozers and operators are also cutting fire lines in their efforts to contain the blazes.