Baker City wildland firefighter leads Oregon team in Texas wildfire battle

By on Wednesday, March 6th, 2024 in More Top Stories Northeastern Oregon News

AMARILLO, Tex. — In a state known for rodeos, this is not Jana Peterson’s first.

Peterson, a seasoned wildland firefighter with 18 fire seasons under her belt, is no stranger to the challenges posed by wildfires.

She’s currently leading an Oregon Department of Forestry strike team as engine boss to help battle raging fires burning in the Lone Star state.  Her team was sent as part of a mutual aid agreement between Oregon and other states, that when fire risk is low in one state, it can send crews to other states to assist.

“This is actually my third time fighting fires in Texas,” said Peterson. She adds she’s fought fires from coast to coast and even Canada during her career.

When she’s not fighting wildfires, her “day job” is working as a Stewardship Forester for ODF for Baker and Malheur Counties at the department’s Baker City office. Her crew members include ODF employees from La Grande.

“Fighting fires is part of my job. Everybody at ODF, even the foresters, help with fires in some way.” said Peterson. 

She says she got her start with forestry as a kid growing up in the tiny Grant County town of Monument. 

“Every kid there is familiar with forestry and wildland firefighting in some aspect,” she said. “I took that experience and turned it into a job during and after college.”

In Texas right now, her team is assigned to a fire north of Amarillo. Wildfires in the state have burned more than 1.25 million acres across the Panhandle region.

“It’s warm but not too hot right now, but the wind is very strong,” said Peterson. “It’s just pushing the flames through this light grass that covers the plains here.”

Peterson’s crew operates a Type 6 wildland fire engine, essentially a dually pickup equipped with a 350-gallon tank.

“We’re patrolling, mopping up and making sure fire doesn’t pop up and get out anywhere with the wind.”

She says she doesn’t know how long her team will be assigned down there, but she’s grateful for the opportunity to help the people of Texas.

“They’ve come up and helped us out a lot and that’s how we build those relationships,” said Peterson. “We go out and help other states when they need help and they come to Oregon in July, August and September when our fire season’s going to help us out as well.”