IDAHO CITY -- Dozens of future firefighters prepared for the fire season Thursday by fighting their first practice fire north of Idaho City.
"Basically we're teaching them the basics of wildland firefighting," said Rob Smolczynski, a firefighter with 20 years of experience.
Smolczynski also acts as the assistant fire management officer for Centennial Job Corps, that means he teaches people how to fight fires. Thursday, his students, along with students from the College of Western Idaho, got their first real taste of battling a forest fire.
"These are all newbies to fighting wildland fire," said Dave Olson with the Boise National Forest. "This is really today their first opportunity to breathe smoke, feel some heat, and learn how to use that tool (the pulaski)."
While these future firefighters have had weeks of classes, their instructors say there's nothing like being on an actual fire.
"The idea of this practice is to get them digging in the environments, dealing with the smoke and the heat from the fires," said Smolczynski. "So, it's invaluable to these guys."
Instructors set small fires on the side of a hill and let the students get real-world experience in digging a fire line, dealing with actual flames, and working with a crew.
"Today, we're working on it pretty hard and we're getting a feel for it," said Luis Arellano-Duran, a student from the Centennial Job Corps. "And I'm pretty sure most of the boys will agree with me, we're loving it."
It's good they're loving it. The Forest Service is hiring about 500 fewer seasonal firefighters this summer because of the sequester. So the firefighters who are hired, like many of these, will be in higher demand.
"We try to get them mentally prepared for a long season," said Smolczynski.
With low snowpack and dry conditions, it could be a bad fire season, with a lot of work to do. And in just a few weeks, these newbies could be shipped anywhere in the U.S. to fight wildland fires. Or, if it's anything like last year, they might have to stay home to battle blazes in their own backyard.
Arellano-Duran says he's ready. "It's great working out here, because you're not only working a job and getting the experience, but at the same time, you're saving the forest."
Officials with the Boise National Forest say firefighters that have come out of the programs at CWI and Centennial Job Corps get rave reviews from fire managers. They say they have a great knowledge of the basics of firefighting, work hard, and have great spirit on the fire line.