BLM Fire Management Officer supports firefighting training for veterans

SCC fire training
In conjunction with the Southwest Conservation Corps, veterans are getting firefighting and fire mitigation training locally./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

On February 9 we covered a story about a training program for military veterans that is run by the the Southwest Conservation Corps, called the Veterans Green Corps. From what we’ve read, it appears to be an excellent program and a good fit for military personnel returning from war zones.

Today we heard from BLM San Juan Public Lands Fire Management Officer Shawna Legarza who pointed us toward another article about the SCC’s training program, this one specifically in Colorado. Normally, we would not post two similar articles on the same topic, but we thought that not only is this a great program that needs visibility and support, but this second article is very well written and is something that you will appreciate reading. We are posting the entire article below because there appear to be technical issues about viewing it at the Durango Telegraph site.

Four of the trainees from this local program will be working on U.S. Forest Service fire crews this summer.


Dressed in forest-green trousers and heavy work boots, a young woman leans against a boulder on a wooded hillside. The sleeve of her yellow work shirt is rolled just to the point of revealing the sharp-edged tattoo gracing her skin. Black sunglasses hide her eyes.

After sidestepping a question two or three times, she looks away toward a stand of scrub oak and says, “I guess I’m doing this because there’s not much that I’ve seen in the normal working world that can compare to where we’ve been or offer the same level of challenge.”

She pauses. “This comes close.”

Sarah Castaneda served with the 82nd Airborne as a combat medic. Now she and the four other Iraq War veterans are training through the combined efforts of the Veterans Green Corps and the Southwest Conservation Corps to do fire mitigation and fight wildland fires. The group is currently finding its legs on the flanks of Animas Mountain, where they are learning the ropes of wildfire mitigation and firefighting techniques.

“It’s been a life-changing experience,” said Mike Bremer who was with the Army Infantry. “At fire camp, the training was incredible, and we’ve had great instructors. Everything has been so thorough.”
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New books about wildfire

Two books about wildfire have been published in the last couple of months. I have not had a chance to read either of them yet, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity.

These descriptions are from

No Grass, by Shawna Legarza

Wildland firefighters, especially “hotshots,” are a breed alone. It is a lifestyle many will never understand. They are dispatched throughout the Nation, always ready to work in the very worst kind of disaster. They sleep wherever it’s safe and often do not shower for weeks.

So why would a young woman, reared on a Nevada cattle ranch, give up the open spaces for a life of danger? This is only one of the questions answered with humor and insight in Shawna Legarza’s memoir, No Grass.

After working her way through college as a firefighter, the author was part of the World Trade Center Recovery Efforts, where she met her husband who, like Legarza, was a firefighter. When he took his own life, the author mustered a new brand of courage and formed a non-for profit program to help the many physically and emotionally wounded firefighters, too brave to ask for help. This is a passionately told story, filled with determination and hope.

[Shawna’s husband was Marc Mullenix.]

Area Ignition, by Joseph Valencia

In August 1979, along a remote ridgeline near Santa Maria, four firefighters from a California Division of Forestry (CDF) engine crew, were preparing to defend the northern flank of the Spanish Ranch fire.

Captain Ed Marty, and firefighters; Scott Cox, Ron Lorant and Steve Manley responded to the fire from the Nipomo fire station. They were all from California, but were as different as the golden state’s angles, aspects and arenas. They were defined more from where they were from; Tehama, Goleta, Long Beach and La Habra.

No one predicted what would happen next—but in a page from man versus nature, the fire accelerated and then swept across the face of the slope which the four young firefighters were on.

At 4:25 PM their thin line of defense was cut-off and a retreating bulldozer operator was overrun. Minutes later, they tried to escape from the sweeping area ignition, but the fire cut-off their retreat and along with another dozer operator they were all overrun by fire.

The tragedy that occurred and the subsequent investigation would change the way the state fire agency operated on area wildfires. Area Ignition looks back 30-years to honor the men who fought and died in the Spanish Ranch Fire. It recreates the courage, emotion and human frailties that are interwoven from the initial ignition point—to the final survivors’ thoughts as they proceeded past a solitary CDF fire engine.

Although much has changed since then—young firefighters still go out every year to battle California wildfires just like their brothers of the past. We owe it to them to understand a little bit of the awesome power of wildfires and the people who fight them.

[Mr. Valencia is also the author of From Tranquillon Ridge, a book about the Honda Canyon fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base in 1977 on which three people were killed, including the base commander. Mr. Valencia worked as a firefighter on that fire.)


To find out more about the books or to purchase them:

No Grass

Area Ignition

From Tranquillon Ridge

Life Challenge Program, in memory of Marc Mullenix

The Life Challenge Program, created in memory of Marc Mullenix, is now being hosted by the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Marc passed away on January 28, 2008.

In 2007 Marc was a Type 1 Incident Commander trainee on Kim Martin’s Incident Management Team in the Rocky Mountain Geographic Area. Some of his past jobs included Wildland Fire Division Chief for the Boulder Fire Department, Fire Management Officer for Mesa Verde National Park, and Division Chief for the Fairmont Fire Protection District, all in Colorado.

According to the Life Challenge Program web site:

“The Life Challenge Program is a reflective and support based program which will help set a vision for firefighters and families to better understand the emotions faced during the challenges in life. This program is dedicated to those who are the survivors.”

We received some questions about the cause of death of Marc Mullenix shortly after it occurred, but did not discuss it since it was not reported widely. But on the web site, the biography of his surviving spouse, Shawna Legarza, begins like this:

Shawna Legarza is the surviving spouse of her husband, Marc Mullenix who committed suicide in 2008. She is also the founder of Wildland Firefighter Life Challenge Program, is currently working her 21st year in Fire and Aviation Management. During her fire career she also completed the USFS Joint Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Academy, obtained an Associate Arts Degree in Science for Wildland Fire Management, Bachelors Art Degree in Wildland Fire Management, a Bachelors of Science in Exercise Physiology and teaching, a Masters of Science in Kinesiology and is currently working on a PhD in Psychology specializing in Organizational Leadership.

Donations for the program can be made through the Wildland Firefighter Foundation; just specify that it is for the Life Challenge Program.