AUBURN — It’s rough, grueling work through dense and rugged terrain.
“All day long, whether in rain, heat, snow, this is what they’ll be doing for the next year,” Cal Fire Forest Management Task Force Battalion Chief Chris Paulus said. “The motivation these folks have is just … I’ve never seen it.”
Twenty soldiers from the California National Guard have been called in to help prevent wildfires in Placer County by clearing fuel breaks.
“The poler will be holding a piece of brush or something that the sawyer can then cut and then they can pass it down the line,” California National Guard Officer Jonathan Green said.
It’s all part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 45-day plan to fast track wildfire prevention projects. He called in these troops from California’s southern border, reassigning them to 35 programs across the state including this one, the North Fork American River Fuel Break Project.
“Originally, it was set to take five to 10 years. But now, this portion, phase one around the Colfax area, we’re looking within one year as the target date,” Paulus said.
Right now, soldiers are going through hands-on training to know what to cut, what to take and what to leave.
“This is all very new to me,” Green said. “I’m a military intelligence officer.”
The National Guard has been called in to help fight wildfires in the past but this is the first time they’re working on prevention.
“That military mindset and also that level of fitness that the National Guard has really sets our crews up really well to adapt their skills to fighting fires and also fuel management,” Green said.
And they have a long way to go, with 900 acres to clear in the first phase.
“Fuel breaks reduce fire intensity, they don’t actually stop fires,” Paulus said. “It’s firefighters in the fuel breaks that stop fires. It gives us an anchoring point to fight the fire from.”
It’s all to prevent more lives from being lost this upcoming fire season.
“The tragic loss of human life, the tragic loss of homes and businesses,” Paulus said. “The big objective is to start avoiding those kinds of losses.”