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Nothing Prepares Firefighters Like Flames


They’ve been in the classroom, learning things like fire behavior, ecology, and safety skills, all in an attempt to become a wildland firefighter.

“It’s a little nervous, trying to put everything in the classroom to out here,” James Dennis, a firefighting trainee, said Friday, “trying to make sure you don’t mess up.”

Fifty-five men and women from across Central Oregon put their skills to the test in a live fire exercise.

On Thursday morning, a controlled burn west of Sisters served two purposes, to clear underbrush near the Cold Springs Cutoff, and to give hands-on experience of what it’s like to be on the fire line.

“It’s definitely — all week, it’s anticipation,” said Dennis. “Not being able to sleep very much at night.”

They’ve been training mainly in a classroom since Monday, working to get a chance to fight fire.

As the fire lookout on Black Butte keeps a watchful eye from above, the sounds of a radio echo in the forest.

Down below, crew bosses like Stevie Howard directs her crew when to dig line, and what to do next.

“You can only talk about something for so long,” said Howard, “it’s kind of getting out there and getting dirty and getting to it.”

Howard has been fighting fire for the last six years. This summer she was given a new role as crew boss.

“You love what you do,” said Howard. “You get into this, you love the outdoors, you love working as a team, on a crew, and that’s my favorite aspect of it.”

With several different crews spread across the different flanks of the fire, they work in tandem like a well-oiled machine.

The fire is quickly lined, and mop-up begins.

“Now they have an actual live experience they can draw on when they’re actually on a wildfire,” said firefighter Rob Kephart. “Which is a much more dangerous situation.”

“I remember the excitement of seeing first live fire,” said Howard, “Seeing it out in the field is way different than seeing it on TV and in the classroom.”

As fire season begins to pick up across the West, these men and women wait to get the call to join the fire lines once again.

Meanwhile, the director of fire and aviation for the U.S. Forest Service was in Redmond Thursday morning.

Tom Harbour was the keynote speaker for the annual Central Oregon Preparedness and Pre Season Wildland Fire Meeting.

Harbour talked about the importance of legislation passed by Congress earlier this month to get more air tankers off the ground.

Before the bill was signed into law, the Forest Service had to notify Congress 30 days before issuing any new contracts to beef up it’s fleet.

Harbour also told us he believes Central Oregon is well prepared for fire season.

“There will be bad fires — you always have bad fires,” said Harbour. “But you have got one of the prime groups in the nation poised to take care of that for you.”

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden spearheaded the legislation to get more air tankers in the air.

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