When Wildfires Ignite, CCC Corpsmembers Eagerly Respond

male corpsmember in background searches boxes and foreground box is out of focus

A Ukiah Corpsmember sorts through boxes of fire equipment to help fulfill an order at the supply section of the Caldor Fire base camp in Placerville, CA.

California Conservation Corps Corpsmembers are set to put in a record number of hours to help put out the state’s intensifying wildfires. In the last 12 months, Corpsmembers have worked more than a million hours fighting wildfires. Much of the battle is being fought by our neighbors.

“It’s not just water and hoses. With wildland firefighting you have to build lines so you have to have hand tools and bring pumps for water,” said CCC Delta Corpsmember Mason Nguyen.

Mason is among the hundreds of Corpsmembers responding to wildland firefighting base camps across California. A total of 61 CCC crews have deployed on 131 assignments at 22 major fire incidents this year alone. The work is physically and mentally demanding as crews work 16-hour days for up to three weeks at base camps.

Four Los Angeles Center Corpsmembers get a briefing about the Monument Fire from a U.S. Forest Service representative at the base camp in Weaverville, CA.

“You’re handing out water, ice, lunches to everybody that’s working out on the fire, making sure they have the energy and strength to do what they need to do,” said CCC Fortuna Corpsmember Lilyana Brumbaugh. “Knowing that you are helping makes the day so much better and goes by so much faster. Seeing the firefighters come in and just smile, it’s amazing.”

Corpsmembers are also working the fire lines. As many as 400 CCC wildland firefighters don yellow Nomex tops and kelly green pants—equipping themselves with hand tools and chain saws—to put in the extraordinarily difficult work of constructing handline to contain wildfires.

“We’re cutting line and building trenches,” said CCC San Diego Corpsmember Edith Perez Cortes, who helped work on the Caldor Fire. “We have to move faster because all of this vegetation is mostly dry and it burns way faster. I’m excited that I’m actually helping others and doing something with my life. It feels good.”

At the end of August, CCC wildland fire crews have responded to 131 incidents in 27 counties.

A CCC San Diego Corpsmember cuts hand line on the Caldor Fire near Pollock Pines, CA on August 19, 2021.

“Even though we’re not directly fighting the fire, I do feel like we are contributing a pretty big part because we’re making sure this equipment gets out to the firefighters that need it,” said Mason. “Seeing all this hard work it makes me appreciate what people do out here and it motivates me to also keep going.”

Corpsmembers are traveling up and down the state working the fire lines and at base camps. The key to this hard work is all about maintaining a positive attitude and knowing the bigger picture.

“It’s really cool to see how everyone works together and how we are part of that and how we help,” said CCC San Diego Corpsmember Emily Crane. “I’ve always been fascinated by fire and firefighters and how everything works. This is what I signed up for. It’s my job and I’m happy to be here and help.”