Seven students from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College recently left for the west coast to fight wildfires threatening thousands of acres in California and Oregon.
Tyler Burleson, a sophomore student, used his college text books to provide technical training. Now, he is hoping to gain hands-on training that will benefit him down the road.
“This is a good way for me to get my foot in the door for a forestry service job,” Burleson said from a staging area in Redman, Ore.
Seven NEO students and two NEO alumni volunteered to travel to Oregon and then to California for 14 days to fight the wildfires, said Mike Neal, forestry instructor. They will return to Oklahoma next week, Neal said.
Students volunteering include Burleson of Wyandotte, Justin Shrum from Claremore, Zach Christie of Little Kansas, Eric Fonseca of Quapaw, Thomas Richardson of Fayetteville, Ark., Eric Eddy of Miami and Alicia Bishop of Miami.
They are joined by former NEO students Jessica Koster of Baxter Springs, Kan., and Andrew Kirksey of Miami.
The students are part of a line crew for the Siskiyou County fire department and will put out small fires and embers that still burning after the larger sections of the fire have been put out, Neal said.
“This job is important, because they will keep the wind from picking up those embers and blowing them into unburned areas,” he said.
The group traveled to Oregon initially, because many of the full-time Oregon firefighters had been called to California.
Neal said the group from NEO was stationed in Oregon in case a wildfire started there.
The fire they are currently fighting in Siskiyou County has burned 54,559 acres, according to www.activefiremaps, a website managed by the federal government. The cause of the fire was lightening.
While 36 percent of the blaze has been contained, it is not expected to be fully contained until Aug. 8.
A complete outline of all the fires burning in the country is available at http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/#.
Neal said NEO is the only college in Oklahoma that offers college credit to freshman and sophomores working to become certified fire fighters.
The college has teamed up with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to allow students to participate in fighting local fires that occur on American Indian-owned ground. Most importantly, Neal said, they are given an understanding of safety and how to properly use tools.
Each of the seven students sent to Oregon and California are certified through the National Wild and Firefighting Coordinating Group, Neal said.
“They are trained and ready for this experience,” Neal said.
Burleson said he has experienced nothing like fighting an actual wildfire. California uses resources such as helicopters and airplanes for water and chemical drops. He has gained experience quickly, he said.
“Fighting fires is a rush, an adrenaline builder,” he said.