LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — For the first time ever, California is calling in the National Guard to conduct preventative measures in order to help protect communities from devastating wildfires.
Some of those troops will be pulled away from President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border protection efforts and devoting them to fire protection, while others can volunteer for the work. This comes after California Gov. Gavin Newsom last month announced that he was pulling several hundred National Guard troops from the border, calling Mr. Trump’s “border ‘emergency’ a manufactured crisis.”
Starting next week, 110 California National Guard troops will receive 11 days of training in using shovels, rakes and chain saws to help thin trees and brush, CAL Fire spokesman Mike Mohler said Wednesday.
They will be divided into five teams that will travel around the state starting in April to work on forest management projects, mainly clearing or reducing trees and vegetation in an effort to deprive flames of fuel.
All this follows nearly a year of continued criticism from Mr. Trump, who has alleged that California officials are not doing enough to prevent wildfires. Just prior to touring the destruction from the Camp and Woolsey fires last November, he argued that forest management was more to blame than climate change for starting the fires.
“Maybe it (climate change) contributes a little bit,” Mr. Trump told Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Nov. 16. “The big problem we have is management.”
In January, Mr. Trump said that he was ordering the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stop sending wildfire relief money to California. It’s unclear if he was actually planning to follow through with the threat.
“Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Jan. 9. “Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!”
On Nov. 8, the 97,000-acre Woolsey Fire broke out south of Simi Valley. It then jumped the south side of the 101 Freeway near Calabasas and spread into Malibu. The fire destroyed more than 1,500 structures and was responsible for three deaths. The cause of the Woolsey Fire has not yet been released.
That same day, Nov. 8, the 153,000-acre Camp Fire tore through the Northern California community of Paradise, destroying 18,804 structures – including nearly 14,000 homes – and claiming 86 lives. Utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric admitted last month that although the official cause of the fire has not been determined, its own equipment was likely to blame for sparking it. CAL Fire has determined that PG&E was responsible for at least 17 of the blazes in the October 2017 Northern California firestorm.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first in recent decades to deploy California National Guard troops as firefighters. That occurred on July 4, 2008, after lightning storms sparked hundreds of fires, Guard Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma said.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)