Wildfire school

High school students enrolled in the 2019 Wildfire School learn to build a fire line from the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Sweet Home staff.

SWEET HOME, Ore. — A new class of Oregon high school students recently completed the three-day Forestry Natural Resource Leader Wildfire School in Sweet Home.

The annual school is a cooperative effort of the Oregon Department of Forestry, Bureau of Land Management, the Forestry Natural Resource Leaders, Oregon Department of Education and staff from the 11 participating high schools.

The field-based training was on Cascade Timber Consulting Inc. land and included classes in wildfire safety and protocol, fire and weather, hose lay, hand line and pump techniques.

Students also received instruction in first aid, compass and pacing and fire tables. They were tested for competency at the end of the school.

“Wildfire School has been taking place in one form or another since the middle 1980s,” Kirk Hutchinson, executive director of FNRL, said. At 89 students, enrollment was up from 77 students last year.

Participants wore long-sleeve shirts, lace-up fireproof boots and brought safety items that included fire-safe gloves, hard hats and ear protection, he said.

Each school brings as many round-point shovels, McLeods (rake hoes) and other fire line tools as they can.

This year’s students and chaperones came from Amity, Alliance, Clatskanie, Kalama, Knappa, Sabin, Scio, Sweet Home, Tillamook, Thurston and Waldport.

Hutchinson directed the school.

“John Mingus started the program in the mid-1980s when he was executive secretary of Keep Oregon Green,” Hutchinson said. “Wildfire school alum Forrest Chambers took over when John retired and operated it as long as he could. When Forrest couldn’t do it anymore, Sweet Home Technical Auto/Wood teacher Dustin Nichol ran it himself the five or six years before FNRL picked up the reins.”

The ODF crew prepared 12 slash piles and reserved four for the students. The remaining piles will be used for the regular fire school ODF runs in June.

“It takes a ton of people to run this program, and the number of hours they spend on it is staggering,” Hutchinson said. “Poor Dustin even got up in the middle of the night to light the piles so the kids could get right to work when they arrived.”

Rex Lowther, the forest products and small engines teacher at Scio High School, is a 15-year wildfire school veteran.

“I remember fire school as far back as my high school days in Philomath,” Lowther said. “It does a number of things that can’t be done in the classroom. In addition to getting them out of their tribal groups thinking about things other than what they do every day, it prepares them for future employment, service to the community and allows them to network with industry folk.

“I wish people understood that this is going on each year and the value it provides to the students and the community.”

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