Student Journal: summer dispatches from the field Wildland firefighter: A young writer at the front

About the project
Profile of Students
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The Dispatches

1- Training to fight the hellfires of summer

2- A draining hike and a hard-core introduction

3- Establishing a "wetline," encountering a cactus, and going nose to nose with the nozzleman



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About the project
Editor's note: Matt Mireles, an undergrad at UC Berkeley, will be filing regular dispatches from the field this summer.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY — I'm an undergrad in Berkeley's Interdisciplinary Studies program, concentrating my course work on "narrative journalism." This summer, I am working for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF), fighting fires in California. I will have stories to tell.

Fire fighting is an adventure that I dreamed of long ago. In truth, this is not about pursuing the story or getting a new angle on things. Fighting fire is something I love to do — this will be my second season. And as a journalist, I think that this angle is the best one of all. Good journalism is honest, fresh and sincere. And when most people write about firefighters, they tend to describe them as noble — heroes or warriors. Yes, these labels are well intentioned and sometimes even accurate, but firefighters are subject to all the follies, contradictions, and intricacies that affect the rest of us. Too many writers miss this.

What I hope to do is to tell you about people who live extraordinarily interesting lives. They put themselves in some very exciting and hazardous situations, sometimes endangering their own lives to protect the life, property, and resources of the American public.

The Southern California fire season is several months ahead of schedule. Over 110,000 acres have already burned, nearly three times the average for this time of year. Rainfall is at a record low for the entire region. Governor Gray Davis has signed legislation to add an extra man to each CDF fire engine, totaling four firefighters per engine instead of three. My job with the CDF San Diego Ranger Unit is the product of this legislation.

This looks to be the worst fire season on record. Drought continues to harrow the West. I am both scared and excited.

—Matt Mireles


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