Climate change has helped fuel large wildfires across the country, and fire departments need all the help they can get.
Just two hours north of Sacramento, the capital city of California, dozens of teenage girls took part in Camp Cinder, a program hosted by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The program was designed to help encourage young women to enter the firefighting field, which is made up of mostly men.
“All I saw was men, and in the back of my head, I thought, this is something I want to do, and this is something I know I can do, and I’m here doing it now,” camper Marisa Lorea, 18, said.
Only about 8% of America’s firefighters are women, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
“The next generation that’s coming around isn’t just going to be male dominance, there’s going to be women as well,” Lorea said.
The teens are trained by a nearly all-female staff.
“I love the phrase, ‘If you see her, you can be her, because they see all of the female CalFire staff who are out here doing it,” Battalion Chief Katie Mason said.
Mason joined the firefighting force when she was only 18 and has been on the job more than a decade.
“They can do it. It’s hard work. It’s very difficult, and you have to be committed and dedicated, but it can be done,” she explained.
Deja Jones, 16, said her path to becoming a firefighter is personal. Her home burned down in a wildfire five years ago.
“I am never letting that happen to anyone else … That is my worst fear — seeing someone have to go through the pain of losing everything just like I did,” Jones said.
The five-day camp trains the teens both life-saving techniques and how to fight fires on the front lines.
“I can do as much stuff as them. Like, maybe I’ll do it a different way because I’m smaller, but you figure it out, and you just do the best you can,” camper Alex Watts, 16, said.
Whenever the campers finish the program, they can apply for a scholarship to fund their fire education in the future.