SALIDA, Colo. (KRQE) – Among the 20 recruits at the Colorado Firecamp in Salida, Colo., training to become wild land firefighters, you’ll find young men and women looking for the adventure that comes with the job.
Others are looking for steady work. But for some, like Los Alamos native Will Pacheco, learning to fight wild fires is personal.
“I remember (the Cerro Grande fire) was the first major fire I’ve ever seen, driving down through my town, getting evacuated, it was on my birthday, a very hard time for me and my family,” Pacheco said.
Pacheco was just 5 years old when the Cerro Grande fire forced his family, and thousands of others, out of the mountain town of Los Alamos. That fire eventually devoured more than 400 homes.
Eleven years later, it happened again.
Pacheco remembers that summer day in 2011.
“I looked over the mountain and I see a little plume starting, some smoke, and we watched it for a couple of hours, and before we know it, we’re getting calls on evacuation. And the plume is huge,” Pacheco said.
Will and his family were forced from their home three years ago when the Las Conchas fire threatened the town.
“I could actually see trees, where the fire was starting, what was going on, seeing our mountains burn down very quickly, very scary, very scary situation,” Pacheco said.
As a wildland firefighter, those are the situations Pacheco expects to encounter often. But for Pacheco and the other trainees, the danger is part of the attraction.
“I’m young, I want to go out there and see what it’s like to be in very life threatening situations, but where you can actually save lives,” said Pacheco.
Pacheco is applying for firefighting jobs with federal and state agencies across the west. He aspires to earn a spot with one of the elite Hot Shot crews by the time he’s 19.
Once hired, Pacheco can expect to make as much as $2,000 a week during the season. He plans to some day bring that training home to New Mexico.
“Growing up in the mountains, hiking with my dog, going snowboarding at my local mountain, Pajarito, and seeing that get near burnt in the Cerro Grande fire, and then actually part of it gets burned in the Las Conchas fire, it’s been on my mind, firefighting in that small town,” Pacheco said.