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Colorado Youth Picking Up Chainsaws And Preparing To Fight Fires

By Ashton Altieri

BUFFALO CREEK, Colo. (CBS4) - Stephanie Scoles, 22, has always had a desire to help others.

"I got my EMT license right as I turned 18. I wanted to get out there and serve people," she said.

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Stephanie Scoles (credit: CBS)

After working as a paramedic, considering becoming a nurse, and then working on a Mile High Youth Corp Trail crew, Stephanie decided to pursue a more unusual path.

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(credit: CBS)

"I took a hard look at myself and decided firefighting was the way I wanted to go," she explained. "I had thought about it when I was younger and thought 'No, that's for boys.'"

It's the kind of decision Colorado's Mile High Youth Corps strives to help young people make.

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CBS4's Ashton Altieri interviews Jesse Roehm. (credit: CBS)

Jesse Roehm is the Senior Manager for Land Conservation with the Corps and explains the organization's mission is to make a triple impact on youth, the community and the environment. The new wildland fire program is part of their broader land conservation program which has operated in Colorado for more than 20 years.

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(credit: CBS)

"It's the first year we've ever run it, and we're really excited to have 18 firefighters working for the Corps for the first time," said Jesse.

The wildland fire training starts in the classroom and then moves to a remote wilderness area near Buffalo Creek in Jefferson County.

"We're learning about how different topographies like the mountains and the drainages (basins) and how all that effects fire behavior and the winds. We're also going to learn how to use saws to remove trees and debris," said Stephanie.

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(credit: CBS)

After several weeks of training, Stephanie and her fellow Corpsmembers will be awarded an Incident Qualification Card, better known as a "Red Card," which qualifies them to fight wildfires anywhere in Colorado.

"The hope is this is the future of the Forest Service," Jesse said. "Folks come through this program and transition into full-time, permanent positions. The Forest Service is really looking to draw young people into the ranks and specifically women and people of color who you really don't find very often in fire and more broadly in the Forest Service."

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(credit: CBS)

"The environment is just so beautiful, and we just have so much we can do to keep it this way -- to keep exploring and hiking and biking and skiing and snowboarding. By making these forests safer and by making them more accessible to more people is really what drives me," Stephanie said.

The Mile High Youth Corps is affiliated with Americorps and was established in 1992 to give youth ages 16 to 24 a chance to earn an income and learn hands-on job skills while serving the community.

Wildfire Resources

- Visit's Colorado Wildfire section.

Wildfire Photo Galleries

- See images from the most destructive wildfires (Black Forest, Waldo Canyon, High Park and Fourmile), the deadliest (Storm King) and largest wildfire (Hayman) in Colorado history.

Ashton Altieri is a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist. Watch him on the CBS4 Morning News weekdays from 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. Connect with Ashton on Facebook and on Twitter @AshtonCBS4.

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