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ON FIRE

As the West burns, the US government raises its projections for forest fire jobs

Firefighters battle a fire.
Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/via REUTERS
The job is heating up.

We’ve never seen a fire year like this. Across the American West, dozens of fires are raging out of control. Thousands of miles from Washington to the Mexican border are blanketed in thick smoke. Noon skies have turned a Martian red, blotting out the sun’s light. Day after day passes with thick acrid smoke burning your lungs.

Amid the misery, at least one profession stands to benefit: forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics recently estimated the number of people working in the occupation, which offers a median wage of about $53,000 per year, is set to increase by 24% from 2019 to 2029.

When the government estimated employment changes five years ago, they only thought the profession would grow by 13% between 2014 to 2024. By last year, employment was already higher than predicted for 2024. .

Forest fire prevention specialists enforce fire regulations, design control measures, and help manage forests to prevent the conflagration consuming thousands of acres in the West every day. Most of those jobs will be in places burning now: California, Oregon, Utah, and Colorado. States in the South from Texas to Georgia, also employ a number of these specialists.

Even the most recent forecasts may be too low. They came a few weeks after a succession of heatwaves, extreme storms, and 12,000 lightning strikes ignited massive fire complexes now engulfing California and Oregon in August. With government agencies now planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to thin Western forests and prevent fires, the profession is heating up.

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