When wildfires erupt, Malheur County farmworkers shift to fire team duty

Snake River Valley crew No. 14 spent a few weeks this summer fighting wildfires in Alaska. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

VALE – For over 50 years, farmworkers in the Treasure Valley have moonlighted as firefighters. 

They’ve done so as part of the BLM’s Snake River Valley Fire Crew. 

The program was born in Vale in 1964 after a particularly rough fire season the year before left the agency in need of a greater number of organized crews. The agency turned to a resource that was widely available in the 1960s: farmworkers. 

“The program started because those groups were already working together in the fields – there was already that unity,” said Tom Cuellar, Snake River Valley Crew coordinator.  

Much like a fire crew, the farmworkers had an inherent structure and leadership . . .