It's wildfire season in Oregon, and a class of new wildland firefighters is ready to help. About 200 students from all over western Oregon trained in Sweet Home last week, studying fire behavior and learning to use tools and equipment. The 22nd annual Mid-Willamette Interagency Fire School culminated with a live exercise off Highway 20.
At the site outside Sweet Home, several piles of burning brush send up clouds of white smoke. Small grass fires crackle and the sounds of generators, shovels and water hoses mix with shouts from the crews. Teams of firefighter trainees practice their new skills to put out and mop up the blazes.
Lamb: “This is emulating everything we do on a fire just in a slow pace. So we have a real-life scenario but we have plenty of eyes on it. Nothing's going to get out of hand, you're not in a dangerous situation.”
It's Maegan Lamb's eleventh summer with the Oregon Department of Forestry. She's helping run the wildfire simulation, and right now, she's troubleshooting:
Lamb: “We have a hose that busted, we have a pump that's not working and all of that is very, very realistic. Figuring out what resources you have and how you can make that work for what you need, that's all part of the fire game.”
For nine months of the year, Maegan teaches fourth grade in Salem.
Trainee David Mitchell says that makes her an excellent mentor. After the week of intensive study, he looks forward to his summer on the Dallas, Oregon-based crew:
Mitchell: “It's actually fairly safe. They take a lot of precautions. The most dangerous thing is not the fire. It's usually people missing some rules, missing some safety and risk management.”
Officials say just about every county in Oregon is now in fire season. Thanks to this school, hundreds of newly certified wildland firefighters are prepared to keep this year's damage to a minimum.