Sunday, August 17, 2008
Fighting wildfires brings rich rewards, high risk
Want to participate a firefighting adventure?
PORTLAND, ORE. — One of the most sought-after summer jobs in the West isn't at the mall or the pool, but on the fire line.
Fighting wildfires is exciting, intense and — most important to college-age crews facing steep tuition bills — lucrative. A gung-ho firefighter easily makes more than $1,000 a week in a busy fire season, and fire seasons in the West are getting ever busier.
Western states increasingly look to youthful crews in their late teens and early 20s as the primary line of defense between tinderbox forests and a spreading tide of comfortable homes built among the pines.
The downside of that dependence became tragically clear Aug. 5 when a helicopter crash in Northern California killed nine people, including seven firefighters working for Oregon-based Grayback Forestry Inc. All seven were 30 or younger.
One of them, David Steele, 19, of Ashland, Ore., saw fighting forest fires as a first step toward his dream of becoming a full-time firefighter.
"I don't think he realized the risk," said his friend, Tysin Senestraro. "All he thought about was saving lives. He wanted someone to look up to him and say, 'Thank you.' "