This summer was a tragic learning experience for many communities in Colorado as several wildfires burned land, homes and history. I experienced the fires in my first season as a wildland firefighter, and let me start by saying this is one of the most rewarding jobs I had ever encountered.

I was excited and ready for whatever was to come my way.

I didn’t have to wait long. By my second day on the job, the Hewlett fire broke out. I was nervous because of the unknown factors at hand. I have been trained through fire courses that I attended at Front Range Community College. I had the knowledge, but I hadn’t been on a real fire yet so I didn’t know what to expect.

As I went in to the station that morning ready to go, I carried a mindset that I would be the one to knock this fire out. I started to become a little more nervous the closer we came to rolling out in the fire engine. Our crew of three loaded up the truck and made sure everything was good to go. The radios were set to the right frequencies, the water was topped off in the tank, and our gear was stuffed in any compartment it could fit in.

Just a small piece of the puzzle.

I threw on my Nomex® yellow shirt and off we were heading up to the Poudre Canyon. As we entered the canyon, I saw that we are just a small piece in a very large puzzle. The first few days consisted of patrolling the canyon to show our presence in the area as well as looking for any “slop over” (fire that had crossed a containment line).

Protecting homes was a priority.

I did not really understand what our mission was at the time, but in this field the mission will change faster than a blink of an eye. After the first few days had passed we were placed on structure protection, which means we were to go to a particular house and ensure its safety.

Our crew spent hours moving the clutter that surrounded the outside of the house to an area away fromit. Any material that was flammable or that could catch an ember was placed far from the house.

I want to be a firefighter when I grow up.

The next day we were given a floating pump, which we placed in the river for an unlimited amount of fire suppressant. I hosed down the house and everything around it to increase the moisture. Later on a hot shot crew came through and dug a containment line around the house so that they could burn off the fuels toward the creeping fire. I have never seen this done and I thought to myself: How can they control the direction in which the flames move? It was like magic or pure experience because it worked perfectly. After this first fire, I know this is what I want to be when I grow up.

If you would like more information regarding our Wildland Fire program or any other Natural Resource majors please contact Jennifer Lee at or (970) 204-8253.

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