They’re searching the scorched ground for any tip or hint that there may be fire underneath, whether it’s a bit of white ash, a collection of bugs gathering around a hot spot or a curl of smoke.
If they do their job, nearby residents can sleep safely in their beds, knowing the fire that threatened their homes Sept. 9, is well and truly out.
They are students at Rutland Senior Secondary School, where they’re taking the forestry program, under instructors Wayne Price and Al Kolkind.
This past week, they’ve been putting their learning to the test, delegated to putting out the hotspots remaining in the Trepanier Valley—both those identified by the daily helicopter infrared scan conducted by the forest service, and those they discover themselves.
Price is one of the forest service’s fire wardens in this zone, and his class of 16 students from all over the school district are often called on to follow up after the initial attack crews have a forest fire under control.
By using this crew of students to beat down the edges and put out hotspots, Dale Bojahra of the forest service says it frees up firefighter crews to be re-set fighting the fire in other areas.
In some instances, they’ll work shoulder to shoulder to patrol an area for remaining ‘sleepers’ or patches of fire burning underground, particularly in interface areas such as Trepanier.
“They’ll scour every square foot of ground using hand tools, hoses, water and putting their hands through the dirt to ensure the fire is out,” he commented.
Sometimes the students are mixed in with other crews so they can learn as much as possible out in the field.
Price says it’s a program that provides many opportunities for students, in half a year of grade 11 and half of grade 12.
For many, it’s a stepping stone to a career, while for others, the skills and training they receive are all that’s needed to get a job after school is out.
It’s aimed at students interested in outdoor careers and they learn lots of generic employable skills, including certification in ATV riding, utility arbourist level I, occupational first aid level I, hazardous materials information (WHMIS), survival skills, bear aware training, compass and GPS training.
Price estimates they’re worth thousands of dollars.
“Plus, they get an opportunity to do practical, hands-on learning. It’s a chance for them to grow as well,” he adds.
Some graduates end up in forestry, while others are welders or in other outdoor occupations.
This week, they’re helping people sleep safely in their beds.