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More than 260 soldiers have been mobilized by the California National Guard (CNG) to train as ground firefighting hand crews as a potential complement to the 18 helicopters, two planes and air crews the CNG has already activated to fight blazes across Northern California.

The soldiers arrived at the CNG’s Camp Roberts in Central California on Monday for four days of intensive instruction led by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). Tuesday the soldiers began two days of classroom instruction followed by two days of work in the field using hand tools.

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When activated to fight fires, the hand crews will work to create fire breaks — gaps in vegetation that act as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a fire — and to mop up hot spots and small blazes that remain after a large fire has passed through an area.

“Our primary mission is to protect the people of the great state of California, and we train year-round alongside CAL FIRE and Cal OES to respond to emergencies such as this,” said Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, Adjutant General of the California National Guard, in a release. “Whether on the ground or in the air, our soldiers and airmen are always ready to fight the blazes that threaten our state each year.”

CAL FIRE, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and the California National Guard have teamed together for decades to fight wildfires, and the training program has been continually evaluated and optimized to quickly train and certify qualified hand crews.

“This is a capability we identified as a potential need early on in our interagency collaborations at the start of this season,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE director, in a release. “The early pre-planning has made integrating the Guard into our firefighting operations a seamless effort. Having these crews trained and ready to support us on the ground will increase our ability to surge critical resources to the fight when and where we need it, especially with the historically worst months of California’s fire season still ahead of us.”

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