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Oregon National Guard Citizen Soldiers Train To Fight Wildfires

Oregon fire officials are turning to National Guard troops to help contain wildfires across the Northwest.

Donald Holden is one of 125 citizen soldiers learning to fight fires during one the region’s worst wildfire seasons. Firefighting wasn’t necessarily what he signed up for.

“This is an interesting role for the National Guard,” Holden said. “Usually it’s combat operations, but part of it is the management of the safety of Oregon, so firefighting.”

Holden works a federal job when he’s not serving as a major in the National Guard. The severity and reach of Northwest wildfires means firefighting resources are quickly depleted. Oregon Governor Kate Brown activated National Guard troops last week to help.

“A lot of unique things, from the tools to the fire hoses to actually digging and hard labor during the days to try to limit the exposure of the fire,” Holden said. “So this is very unique and not what people expected.”

Holden and his fellow trainees leave Salem for fires this week, and another 250 National Guard troops come in to be trained.

They go through a basic, four-day firefighting course. That includes about eight hours of actual hands-on training. Troops will be deployed as support for firefighters.

As for where exactly they will go, training director Eriks Gabliks said they’ll know for sure when they get there.

“Situations are changing hourly, where they go, we won’t know until buses pull out in the morning.”