CCC Wildland Firefighters Ready for Wildfire

Wildland firefighters in full safety gear hold hand tools and wait for instructions

Butte Fire Center Corpsmembers ready their tools and themselves as they prepare to cut 300 feet of hand line during the Ishi Readiness Exercise near Paynes Creek, CA.

As temperatures begin to climb, so does the threat of wildfire in California. The young adults of the California Conservation Corps are ready for what could be another long, exhaustive fire year.

“The 2020 fire season made me mad, I wanted to do something to help out,” said CCC Butte Fire Center Corpsmember Joaquin Arroyo, of Folsom. “I wanted to do something to help and the CCC is where I can. This is the quickest way to get into firefighting.”

Butte Fire Center Corpsmember Josh Jackson listens intently to his CAL FIRE captain after successfully completing a readiness exercise. 

Arroyo joined the CCC last fall and is now among the 400 Corpsmembers across California trained and prepared to protect people and property on wildland firefighting hand crews. The CCC operates 26 crews in partnership with CAL FIRE, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management.

“I joined the CCC because I wanted to chase the dream of becoming a wildland firefighter,” said Butte Fire Center Corpsmember Ana Cruz, of Santa Maria. “All the training and hard work pays off. We’re going to be seeing some things this year, it’s going to be tough. I know we’re up to it and can do it together.”

This year, with Governor Gavin Newsom’s emergency fire augmentation authorization, six new permanent and six seasonal CCC-CAL FIRE fire crews will be available to respond to wildfires. Corpsmembers do not need prior experience and get paid to train with experienced fire captains. The young adults are 18 to 25-year-olds, and U.S. military veterans up to 29, who want to challenge themselves and develop skills that can lead to careers in the fire service.

“We get a lot of experience that can open the door to places like CAL FIRE,” said Los Piños Corpsmember Lupe Ruiz, of Los Angeles. “I was really wanting to challenge myself. The first time swinging a Pulaski and being so close to the flames it was kind of scary. But now I’m getting more convinced about pursuing a career with CAL FIRE.”

Female firefighter stands with water pack in fire gear watching prescribed burn as it approaches the edge of grass

Inland Empire Center Corpsmember Stephanie Bustos carefully watches the flames of a prescribed burn at Lake Mathews near Corona, CA. The Inland 5 BLM-partnered fire crew took part in a training event and made sure the flames did not spread beyond the controlled area. 

The training is hands-on and immersive. Corpsmembers work directly adjacent to hot fire lines, mop up hot spots, and, most importantly, build fire breaks with hand tools.

“We’re putting in six to eight feet, including four feet of bare mineral soil,” said Placer Center Corpsmember JaShawn Fields, Jr., of Pinole. “We’re literally separating the fuel from the fire. That’s all we want do is let burn what the fire needs to burn and save what we can instead of letting it burn through.”

It is grueling, gritty work that can last for 12 to 24-hours straight, if not longer. But Corpsmembers across the state are ready to do their part. And there are still openings for new Corpsmembers to join their ranks this fire season.

Corpsmembers in fire gear use hand tools to cut brush down to bare dirt

Placer Center Corpsmembers use their hand tools to reach bare mineral soil during a fire hand line cut into brush in Nevada County. The line cutting is part of a required readiness exercise for Type 1 hand crews. 

“It’s why we all came here,” Arroyo said. “We train hard. We are family and I love every one of these guys. They’re my brothers and sisters and I’m going to walk through hell on earth for them this summer.”

For more information visit the CCC Wildland Firefighting Program webpage or call 800-952-5627 to speak to a recruiter today!