Making good on a promise he made last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is defying President Donald Trump and pulling National Guard troops from the border to start working on wildfire prevention efforts in the coming weeks.
California National Guard Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma confirmed to HuffPost Thursday that the Guard is moving forward with Newsom’s plan.
“Consistent with the Governor’s directive from last month, approximately 100 National Guard personnel are being redeployed from the southern border mission to prepare for the upcoming fire season by supporting [the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection] in fire prevention and fire suppression efforts,” he said in an email.
That department, also known as Cal Fire, confirmed in a statement to The Associated Press that it will start the 11-day training in April for those troops, who have been deployed at the California-Mexico border as part of Trump’s immigration crackdown.
In their new mission, a Cal Fire spokesman said, those troops will start training on how to use shovels, rakes and chain saws to help thin the tinder-dry trees and brush that provide fuel for the state’s ceaseless wildfire crises. The worst of those on record struck at the end of 2018, when the Camp fire ripped through the town of Paradise and beyond, destroying nearly 19,000 structures and claiming 85 lives.
Earlier this month, Cal Fire identified 35 areas in the state where wildfire risk should be addressed as soon as possible through the fuel reduction efforts National Guard troops will be trained on. The areas needing the most immediate attention include the Highway 44 Fuel Break in Shasta County, the side of Kings Mountain Road in San Mateo County and Rush Creek along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada.
The plan proceeding in April first made headlines last month when Newsom announced the bold move during his State of the State address.
“The border ‘emergency’ is a manufactured crisis and California will not be part of this political theater,” he said, noting that the number of border crossings are at their lowest since 1971.
In pulling troops away from Trump’s border efforts, Newsom will instead put them to work tackling an issue the president has downplayed. Denying robust scientific evidence, Trump has suggested that California’s wildfires are a result of “gross mismanagement of the forests,” not years of drought and record-high temperatures. He has also threatened the state with “no more Fed payments!” unless he’s satisfied with the state’s wildfire efforts.