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National Guard to help protect California towns from fires

SACRAMENTO — California is calling in the National Guard for the first time next month to help protect communities from devastating fires like the one that largely destroyed the city of Paradise last fall.

It’s pulling the troops away from President Trump’s border protection efforts and devoting them to fire protection, another area where Trump has been critical of California’s Democratic officials — even repeatedly threatening to cut off federal disaster funding.

Starting in April, 110 California National Guard troops will receive 11 days of training in using shovels, rakes, and chain saws to help thin trees and brush, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Mike Mohler said.

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They will be divided into five teams that will travel around the state working on forest management projects, mainly clearing or reducing trees and vegetation in an effort to deprive flames of fuel.

‘‘They will be boots on the ground doing fuels projects alongside CalFire crews,’’ Mohler said. ‘‘We’ve had them out for flood fighting, several different operations, but this would be the first time their mission would be fuels thinning and forest management.’’

They have helped fight fires before, however.

Former governor 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 Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Shiroma said.

The training is similar for firefighting and fire protection. Mohler said the troops also will receive some training in forest management, ‘‘so they’re not just out there cutting brush’’ but understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Critics say the work damages forests and can be useless against wind-driven fires, like the one that jumped a river to rain embers on the Sierra Nevada foothills community of Paradise last year, killing 85 people.

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