Natl. Guard called to fight Calif. fires

SACRAMENTO, Calif. "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'," says Sergeant Chris Kalba of the California National Guard.

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State officials say they haven't used guardsmen in this way in three decades, but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-California, says fire seasons are different and require different kinds of responses. The governor says that may include tapping into a valuable resource like the National Guard; a group that is used to being used for a variety of emergencies.

About 200 guardsmen are already helping with aerial attacks on fires all over the state. That new group will be trained in water drops and could be called to duty shortly. They will also be trained in mop up work, which helps to douse flare-ups after firefighters leave the scene.

The National Guard says they are not as experienced with fires, but they don't mind taking up the task.

"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, and lean forward to save lives and property," says Colonel Terry Knight of the California National Guard.

The National Guardsmen will be assigned to the fires for about three to four weeks. However, they say they will stay as long as they are needed.


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