OSWEGO — A forest ranger from Oswego County recently returned from combating the Rocky Mountain wildfires for 22 days in Colorado.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Region 7 Forest Ranger Scott Jackson said it was “good to be back home” after serving as a crew boss in an Empire State squad (known as a “module”) lending a hand to battle the blazes.
Jackson’s module was deployed out of the Rocky Mountain Coordination Center and saw action fighting the Cameron Peak fire and the East Troublesome fire.
The Cameron Peak fire located to the west of Fort Collins, Colorado, is a 208,000 acre fire that started on Aug. 13. His module handled nighttime operations, patrol, structure defense and execute “dozerlines,” a line paved by a bulldozer over terrain to help prevent the spread of fire.
From Oct. 17 to Nov. 4, Jackson and his module of 10 colleagues (five Forest Rangers and five DEC employees) worked with local authorities to provided much-appreciated assistance.
“It’s a rewarding feeling to know you’re going to help out where you’re needed,” Jackson said.
Jackson was responsible for the safety of his team, establishing lookout points, planning potential exit or escape routes and communicating with other modules.
“(When in the field) you fall back on your training; our training is always to consider focus on safety first. We’re trying to fight the fire but what’s going through my head is always looking out for the welfare of the crew,” Jackson said.
On their second assignment, the module worked to control a second fire in the Comanche Wilderness of the Roosevelt National Wilderness. Jackson’s division was in charge of managing a 5,000-acre spot fire moving toward the town of Estes Park.
According to Jackson, the last day of the operation was the wildest day of the fire.
“It was pretty intense, the sky was orange and 70 mph winds were blowing wind, dust and embers all around,” he said. “In his efforts, Jackson’s team worked to move furniture and firewood away from firelines to help prevent fires hitting houses and buildings located in the forests.
“That was quite a bit of excitement — we worked until about 4 in the afternoon,” he added. Thanks to the efforts of his team and others, the fire never made it to Estes Park.
As a DEC ranger, Jackson is responsible for the protection of the environment, control and suppression of wildfires, wildland search, rescue, law enforcement and incident management. He’s been a ranger since 2002, after graduating from SUNY-ESF Ranger School in Wanakena, New York.
Originally from Litchfield, Herkimer County, Jackson spent a majority of his youth outside and on a dairy farm. While he wasn’t sure what career he wanted to pursue, Jackson felt a calling to be outdoors.
“I didn't really know about the wildfire aspect of it until later on, but I already decided that whatever I ended up doing for a career, it had to be an outside job,” Jackson said, adding that he was inspired to be a Forest Ranger after attending a conservation field day and learning more about the rangers.
Jackson has worked alongside local emergency services and other agencies locally to train individuals and organizations in all manner of outdoor crisis management.
“He’s a Swiss Army Knife,” said Aaron Albrecht, team coordinator for the Oswego County Pioneer Search and Rescue Team. “He could be helping with the county rope rescue team, or talking to fire departments about local forest fire fighting. He’s a great asset to our county.”
Albrecht said after more than a decade working alongside him, he’s seen Jackson in action and that reputation proceeds him.
“He’s excellent in incident command in relation to search and rescue or anything else,” Albrecht said. “He’s always safety conscious, and we work with him on a professional level but we all consider him a friend.”
Jackson has spent time previously on the job in Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Missouri, Idaho and Colorado.
Once completing their most recent assignments, the module drove home — across the country. Together they traveled 1,800 miles from Colorado to New York.
“We had a three-day drive home, so it's good to be back,” Jackson said. The module returned on Nov. 4.
For more information about the 22-day operation or forest ranging, visit the NYSDEC website at dec.ny.com.