Students get taste of Rim Fire

By Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat September 10, 2013 12:30 pm

Nearly two dozen Sonora High School students saw firsthand what it takes to manage a massive wildfire.

The students, part of the school’s wildland firefighting program, on Aug. 29 took an all-day field trip to the Rim Fire incident command base camp off Cherry Lake Road.

The wildland firefighting program, in its third year, is an elective course for juniors and seniors that prepares students for Columbia College’s Fire Technology Program and careers in the industry.

Incident management is part of the program curriculum. 

The students toured the firefighters’ temporary dining and sleeping facilities, saw apparatuses and other resources used to fight the blaze, and observed interactions between agencies from across the country.

“I thought it was amazing how many different agencies came together,” said junior Josiah Lopez, who attended the field trip.

Allen Johnson, a program instructor and U.S. Forest Service retiree, arranged to bring the students to the heart of what’s now the third largest wildfire in state history.

Johnson worried he would have to cancel the field trip when the high school, along with all other public schools in Tuolumne County, closed during the last week of August primarily due to excessive smoke. However, 22 of the 26 students were still on board, he said.

“It’s a privilege; it doesn’t happen very often,” Sonora High senior Doria Curry said of visiting the base camp of a prominent fire.

At the time of the field trip, the roads leading to the base camp were closed to the public.

Johnson and fellow program instructor Craig Peterson showed the students and Sonora High administrators around the camp, explaining the different components.

“Basically, the fire camp’s a city,” Peterson said. “They got to see how the components come together. I think they came out of there having learned an awful lot.”

The students also stopped at the Rim of the World overlook, where they discussed the fire’s behavior and the dangers associated with firefighting.

“It was just a very eye-opening experience,” Curry said.