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Since You Asked: Wildland firefighters do range of work in off-season

What do forest firefighters do when there are no forest fires to fight?

— Gerry A.

The Oregon Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service both have year-round firefighters on staff, but they rely on seasonal firefighters to make up the bulk of their crews during the summer wildfire season, said ODF Pubic Information Officer Brian Ballou.

Many of the seasonal firefighters are college students, he said.

"Seasonal firefighting is attractive to people going to college. It works out very well as far as timing," Ballou said.

ODF employs most of its seasonal firefighters from June to mid-October, while the Forest Service typically hires for mid-May through mid-October, he said.

Seasonal firefighters who aren't headed back to school in the fall often go to work on winter road projects for the Oregon Department of Transportation. Other jobs they take include landscaping and tree removal, wildfire fuels-thinning work in the woods, roofing and bartending, Ballou said.

"It's a pretty wide range of things they fill their time with," he said.

During the off-season, full-time wildland firefighters for ODF work on the agency's guard stations, doing tasks like repairing plumbing and fixing roofs. Equipment used during fires also has to be packed up and stored away, Ballou said.

Contract firefighters from businesses like Merlin-based Grayback Forestry, Inc. also join the battle against wildfires.

Grayback Forestry balances out its wildfire season work with forest-thinning projects for government agencies and private landowners across the nation.

Each year, the company treats fuels on more than 20,000 acres using prescribed burning, manual cutting, hand-piling and other methods. It also trains people in wildfire suppression and forestry, according to Grayback Forestry.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.