On Monday morning, in the forest adjacent to an empty field in Rainier, groups of students from the Western Washington Interagency Wildland Fire Training Academy hacked away at the earth below.
They were forging a fire line. In one cluster of nine students, each held a different tool that had a distinct purpose. Their work mimicked that of an assembly line, taking turns one after the other in a well-organized effort to create a trail of barren mineral soil.
These students were some of more than 1,100 trained this year to fight fires through the Interagency Wildland Fire Training Academies, which are hosted by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The other two trainings were held in Yakima and Deer Park.
The academies are a result of a coordinated effort between the DNR and local firefighting agencies. In partnership with 31 fire service agencies and four cooperating government agencies, they train firefighters at various levels of experience, from seasoned professionals to new wildfire fighters.
Be the first to know.
No one covers what is happening in our community better than we do. And with a digital subscription, you'll never miss a local story.
Creating a fire line will be one of many lessons students learn throughout the nine-day training that ends Friday.
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who visited the Western Washington academy training on Monday, said that with wildfires spreading to areas of Washington that used to be largely unaffected, and no promise of increased resources to fight those fires, collaboration between the DNR and local firefighting agencies is necessary.
"It takes all of us," she said.
Ryan Dahl, 24, is among the more than 350 students being trained at the DNR's Western Washington academy. His father worked as a firefighter when Dahl was a child, and he was attracted to the field because he could be outdoors and active.
"It's admirable work," Dahl said. "We're doing a great deed for the public."
Later in the day, a small parcel of brush and trees that faced the prairie was set on fire. Though it struggled to catch, if it had, the hope was that the fire line the students created earlier would keep it from spreading.
Practicing proper fire line making may come in handy soon. According to Laurie Cox, who works as the Family Forest Fish Passage Program administrator for the DNR and the incident commander during the academies, weather conditions are becoming hotter and dryer over time.
"It's certainly looking like it's going to be a very bad fire season," she said.