Wildfire School for High School Kids

By Jan Jackson –

High school student members of Future Natural Resource Leaders of Oregon (FNRL), take fighting wildfires seriously.

The School

A new class of eighty-nine students just completed the two-night three-day FNRL Wildfire School April 10, 11 and 12, in Sweet Home. The annual program is a cooperative effort of the Oregon Department of Forestry Sweet Home (ODF), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Forestry Natural Resource Leader of Oregon (FNRL), Oregon Department of Education and selected program staff from 11 participating Oregon high schools.

The field-based training is held on privately owned Cascade Timber Consulting, Inc. land. It included classes in wildfire safety and protocol, fire and weather, and mop up, hose lay, hand line and use of pump techniques. In addition, students received instruction in dirt throwing (which they turn in to a competition), first aid, compass and pacing and fire tables. They test for competency at the end of the school.

“Participants are required to dress in long-sleeve shirts, lace-up fireproof boots and bring safety items that include fire safe gloves, hard hats, ear protection. Each school brings as many round point shovels, McLeod (a rake hoe), and other fire line tools as they can to add to the ones the school provides.”

Led by FNRL, ODF and volunteers from the participating high schools, the program trains for job preparation, service and networking. This year’s students and chaperones came from Amity, Alliance, Clatskanie, Kalama, Knappa, Sabin Scio Sweet Home, Tillamook, Thurston, and Waldport Oregon.

Kirk Hutcheson, FNRL Executive Director

The History

Kirk Hutchinson, Executive Director of FNRL since late 2017, directed the 2018 and 2019 schools.

“John Mingus started the program in the mid 1980s when he was executive secretary of Keep Oregon Green,” Hutchinson said. “Wildfire school alum Forrest Chambers took over when John retired and operated it as long as he could. When Forrest couldn’t do it anymore, Sweet Home Technical Auto/Wood teacher Dustin Nichol ran it himself the five or six years until FNRL picked up the reigns.

“The ODF crew, who call this their mini wildfire school, prepared the 12 slash piles and reserved four for the kids. The remaining piles will be used for the regular fire school ODF runs in June. It takes a ton of people to run this program and the number of hours they spend on it is staggering.    Poor Dustin even got up in the middle of the night to light the piles so the kids could get right to work when they arrived.”

The Future

Rex, Lowther, the Forest Products and Small Engines teacher from Scio High School, is a 15thyear wildfire school veteran.

“I remember fire school as far back as my high school days in Philomath,” Rex said. “I worked in the woods with my family as a kid so I didn’t do much with it. Kids today, don’t have that opportunity however and this program is invaluable to them. I watch them work in the rain and cold – its hard work but they are up to it. They love it.

“It does a number of things that can’t be done in the classroom. In addition to getting them out of their tribal groups thinking about things other than what they do every day and it prepares them for future employment, service to the community, allows them to network with industry folk.

“I wish people understood that this is going on each year and the value it provides to the students and the community.”

About FNRL

The Oregon FNRL (Future Natural Resource Leaders) is a Career Technical Student Organization that is dedicated to the support of high school students who are interested in pursuing educational and career opportunities within the Natural Resources / Forestry sectors.

To learn more about the program, email Kirk Hutchinson, @hutchfnrl@gmail.com or call him at 503-550-0471.

Photos by Jan Jackson


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