The hands of Buck Allen, Mormon Lake Hotshot Senior Firefighter and Lookout for the Steamboat Fire, June 30, 2001.

Though some wildfires are contained by Mother Nature, many are tamed by wildland firefighters. The successful firefighter combines knowledge, skills and physical endurance with equipment, training and teamwork to get the job done.

Fighting a major wildfire is much like a fighting a major battle. A fire tower lookout sentry sounds an alert. Troops are called up to join firefighting crews. A central leadership team studies the conditions, plots strategy and issues orders for those on the ground and in the air. Behind the scenes, supplies, food and equipment appear to support those in the field. In some cases, a camp is constructed to house those who spend weeks or more to work a fire that just will not quit.

Of course, a fire of any size is unpredictable and has the equal potential to be deadly. The slightest change of the wind can put lives right in the path of a fast-moving wildfire. Insight, caution and escape routes are essential.

Wildland firefighters endure the inherent dangers, the heavy packs, the smoky lungs and the long shifts, but the work can offer uncommon opportunities as well, from the dramatic thrill of jumping out of a helicopter into the belly of a fire to the quiet simplicity of a dinner eaten on a ridge where nobody has likely ever eaten dinner before and likely will not again. Though the paychecks can be impressive, what many firefighters value most is the chance to work alongside other men and women who share their passion for fighting wildfires.

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