BLM, vets, youth join to fight fires

Tara Earl is a member of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corp Veterans Fire Crew, which has been training to fight fires, has mitigated fire-supporting conditions and forage and has even fought a wildland fire in Rio Blanco County this summer.

Tara Earl is a member of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corp Veterans Fire Crew, which has been training to fight fires, has mitigated fire-supporting conditions and forage and has even fought a wildland fire in Rio Blanco County this summer.
Tara Earl is a member of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corp Veterans Fire Crew, which has been training to fight fires, has mitigated fire-supporting conditions and forage and has even fought a wildland fire in Rio Blanco County this summer.
RBC I Since their training in June with Northwest Colorado’s BLM fire crew, the Rocky Mountain Youth Corp Veterans Fire Crew has been mitigating the threats of hazardous fuels in northwestern Colorado. Recently, they had the opportunity to help manage wildland fires, including some in Rio Blanco County.
Training for the fuel-mitigation work included chainsaw and wildland fire training, which provided the skills and qualifications necessary for the RMYC fire crew to be available for wildland fire response if needed. The crew was divided into two squads, Fire 1 and Fire 2.
Fire 2 squad worked on the Upper Colorado River Fire Management Unit on BLM fuel reduction projects. Fire 1 worked with the Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit on BLM and private land mitigating hazardous fuels.
The squads are composed of Mountain Youth Corps members (non-veterans) and returning vets. This offers the returning vets the opportunity to share their skills and experiences with the non-vet squad members while readjusting to civilian life. Fire 2 veterans served with the Marine Corps and Fire 1 veterans are a mix of Army and Navy armed services.
The members of both squads were anxiously awaiting their first wildland fire assignment. That opportunity came in July by the way of the Milk Creek Fire for Fire 2 near Meeker. With some squad members leaving to return to school, the remaining Fire 1 squad members thought they might not get the chance to fight a wildfire.
That changed with the Kodiak Fire in western Moffat County in August. Both squads were combined as one crew and mobilized to assist with the management of the 54 acre fire northwest of Maybell.
The Kodiak Fire is being managed for multiple objectives on BLM land, and the RMYC fire crew is assisting with mop-up and black lining operations. BLM fuels specialist and former hot shot crew member Kevin Thompson is serving as the RMYC fire crew representative.
When asked how they liked working a wildland fire, the response was unanimously positive.
“We’re glad to get a fire assignment before any other crew members had to leave for fall classes,” said Tara Earl, the only female veteran on the crew. “We understand the importance of the mitigation projects we’ve been working on and feel good about that. We were really looking forward to experiencing a wildfire and helping out there, too.”
“We’re pleased to be able to support the Veterans Green Corps program by training and employing returning vets in a system that’s similar to their military structure,” said Colt Mortenson, a BLM fire management officer. “It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
RMYC’s Veterans Corps program was introduced in 2012 in Colorado. Similar Conservation Corps programs in Colorado, California and Montana initiated partnerships with the BLM to establish Veterans Conservation Corps programs starting in 2010.
The Veterans Fire Corps is part of a broader national initiative between the Department of Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture and Conservation Corps programs referred to as Veterans Green Corps programs. The Northwest District Fuels Reduction project is a cooperative effort between the BLM and the RMYC. The project supports mitigation work in the protection of communities.