SULA, Mont. - The Bitterroot National Forest is training a new crop of firefighters.
Job Corps students from Anaconda and Trapper Creek joined Forest Service wildland fire experts in the East Fork of the Bitterroot Thursday.
Some 55 young men and women came to learn everything they could about becoming a Type 2 firefighter.
They helped the Darby Sula Ranger District prepare for a potential prescribed burn. Their classroom was a steep mountain side.
"We're getting these guys used to walking up mountains and swinging a tool," said assistant fire management officer Justin Abbey.
Under intense supervision the students dug more than one mile of fire line.
It was hard work on this cool rainy day. But it would be a lot harder during a real fire in the summer when temperatures soared past 80 degrees with low humidity.
The students are getting conditioned to work on a real fire.
"I wanted something that was going to push my limits," said Trapper Creek student Brandon Hilbun. "When I read about natural resources I knew that was something I wanted to be in."
Hilbun comes from Florida.
Levi White is from Colorado Springs. He's studying natural resources at Trapper Creek. He wants to be a wildland firefighter.
"I would love to protect our nation's forests and resources," he said, "as well as people, their homes, families and livelihood from natural disaster."
Shalea Tallis is studying welding at the Anaconda Job Corps. But her long-term plan is to become a school psychologist.
She wants to return to her home on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Everything she learns at Job Corps will be beneficial.
"I want to take it back to my reservation," she said, "and spread the knowledge."
Many of the students come from suburban and urban environments. For everybody it's a chance to get out into the natural world, free of streets and buildings.
"We're trying to bring back the old Civilian Conservation Corps motto of hard, vigorous labor in the outdoors," said Abbey, "while supporting the Forest Service mission."
Up on that mountain, he said, we're looking at some of the nation's future wildland firefighters.