Seven students from Northeast Oklahoma A&M College returned to Oklahoma this weekend after spending two weeks battling wildfires in Siskiyou County in Northern California.
“I'm tired and exhausted,” said NEO sophomore Tyler Burleson, 19. “But it feels really good to know that you are helping people.”
With just a 24-hour notice, students left NEO to start fire camp in Redman, Ore., on July 18.
“The seven students and two NEO alumni volunteered to travel to Oregon then on to California for 14 days to fight wildfires,” said Mike Neal, forestry instructor.
In addition to Burleson, a Wyandotte native, Justin Shrum of Claremore, Zach Christie of Little Kansas, Eric Fonseca of Quapaw, Thomas Richardson of Fayetteville, Ark., Eric Eddy and Alicia Bishop both of Miami volunteered. Alums Jessica Koster of Baxter Springs and Andrew Kirksey of Miami also traveled to California.
“The students were part of a line-crew for the Siskiyou County fire and put out small fires and embers that are still burning after 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 to unburned areas.”
“We dug a 10-foot-wide barrier that keeps the fire from jumping,” Burleson said. “We worked for two days, and then the fire blew up. The fire has yet to be extinguished.”
Burleson said the fire had cause one fatality - a firefighter from another department. The team was off for four days during an investigation, he said.
During those days, the team attended stress-related briefings. The rest of the time, Burleson said, the team was on call.
“I learned a lot of leadership skills,” Burleson said. “I also learned first hand how a crew has to step up and about teamwork.”
Students received safety and on-the -job training to become firefighters while helping fight a fire that raged over 58,000 acres of land.
The college students are certified through and members of the National Wildland Firefighting Coordinating Group at NEO.
“NEO is the only college in Oklahoma that offers college credit for becoming a certified firefighter,” Neal said.
The college has teamed up with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to allow students to participate in fighting local fires that occur on BIA land.
“Fighting fires is a rush, an adrenaline builder,” said Burleson.