Tom Jingst has one of the hottest jobs in the world. He’s a burn boss, the leader of a crew that starts and puts out fires.
Not all fires are bad. When used carefully, fire can keep shrubs out of grasslands, create forest openings so young trees get sunlight, and provide habitat for animals. When used carelessly, fire can burn up homes and hurt people. Only someone like Tom, who has years of training, should start a fire.
Each person on Tom’s crew has a specific job. Some use drip torches to dribble flames onto the ground. Others use rakes and water sprayers to keep the fire under control. Tom makes sure everyone works together to stay safe. He keeps a close eye on the weather and puts out the fire if it gets too hot or windy. Weather and fire, however, can change in an instant.
“We were burning a prairie, and the wind picked up,” Tom says. “Before I could blink, a 6-foot flame turned into a 20-foot fire tornado. It roared and seemed alive.” Luckily, the wind let up, and the fire died down. Does Tom ever worry one of his burns might escape or someone might get hurt? “Every time I light a drip torch,” he says. “If something goes wrong, it’s my fault.”
That doesn’t mean Tom plans to stop lighting fires. He takes pride in keeping forests and grasslands healthy.
Nichole LeClair Terrill