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Conservation Corps training next generation of wildland firefighters
fire train 6-5
California Conservation Corps Tahoe fire crew 2 hikes through a meadow in El Dorado County during the crew’s annual readiness drill. Photo Contributed

A year ago, Cecilia Pierce was working as a barista in Madera County. Now, she’s one of hundreds of young adults in the California Conservation Corps getting hands-on experience training as a wildland firefighter.

“I always thought this was way out of reach,” Pierce said. “I always learn something new and then I take it on to the next day. I see how much I’m progressing. I’m proud of my success.”

Pierce and her crew have spent the last few weeks saddled up in protective gear, sharpening their hand tools, and hitting the trails of Northern California. These are not leisurely strolls through the woods. These are workouts. Intense hikes intended to prepare Corpsmembers for the demanding months ahead on the fireline.

“I’m not the best hiker, but I’ve seen so much improvement,” Pierce said. “I know what I have to do and I work on it. We all know we have to improve. I have to keep pushing myself.”

Across California, more than 450 Corpsmembers daily work out rigorously to maintain the physical fitness needed to respond to wildfires. They also receive paid training and hands-on experience in fighting wildfires throughout the state, and are often even called on for national response.

“Our Corpsmembers are on the front lines protecting our communities and neighbors from wildfire,” said CCC Director JP Patton. “More than that, they are gaining the skills and experience to launch sustainable careers in the fire service. A year in the CCC can qualify them for serving in agencies like CalFire, U.S. Forest Service, and local fire departments.”

The growth of Corpsmembers in the program is clear. From college grads to young adults trying to finish up high school, recruits often enter the CCC with no prior experience. Through in-depth training in the classroom and intense exercise circuits focused on building up strength and endurance, Corpsmembers emerge transformed.

“I came in barely being able to do one pull-up,” said Placer Corpsmember Serra Davidson. “Today we did 100 pull-ups. It’s not easy but I get it done.”

For many Corpsmembers, this will be their first time on a wildland fire crew. Though it can be a steep learning curve, Corpsmembers are eager to pick up the language and develop their skills. The combination of experience and credentials can lead Corpsmembers to meaningful careers in fire and forestry.

“I’m going to the CalFire Santa Cruz Unit,” said Los Piños Corpsmember Victor Palomo. “I was lucky enough to get picked up within a year of joining the CCC.”

However, nothing is more motivating than protecting communities. It makes all the hard work and preparation worth it.

“It’s not that we want California to burn, but that’s what we’ve been training for,” said Tahoe Corpsmember Eduardo Hernandez. “That’s what brings meaning in my life, helping communities, protecting lives, natural resources, and property.”

Last year, CCC fire crews were dispatched to 205 wildfire incidents. There’s still time for other young adults to join in and help, as 18 to 25-year-olds can enroll in the CCC year-round. Military veterans up to age 29 are also eligible. To learn more visit

“You can do anything that you set your mind to,” Pierce said. “We are a family. We’re all constantly changing and growing. We’re just trying to help each other. That’s really cool.”