Staring Into the Fire

Not your typical summer break. Henry Jones ’23 forewent a cushy office internship and beach vacations to fight fires in the Pacific Northwest.

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On summer break, college students usually go on vacation, see their families and friends, and enjoy the sun. Rather than tanning at the pool or riding waves at the beach the summer after his sophomore year, Henry Jones ’23 joined his hometown’s fire department in the Pacific Northwest and spent his time off extinguishing flames and protecting his community.

In 2021, Jones applied to about 20 different fire departments across the Northwest. Washington, Wyoming, Montana—it didn’t matter where he ended up, Jones wanted to be out there. With a stroke of luck, he ended up with his hometown crew in Methow Valley, Washington. Though, locally, California was experiencing a rough, early start to wildfire season due to ongoing drought, Washington fared better than what experts had predicted—the largest was the William Flats fire at about 44,000 acres, which was quickly contained. Still, Jones saw action and his love of firefighting began.

“I wanted to push myself and test my limits and go outside the boundary of what my career is going to be,” Jones says. A finance major, he foresees a professional future for himself that doesn’t necessarily include fighting forest fires. “It was rewarding to step away from the ‘normal track.’”

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Last summer, Henry Jones helped fight off the Cedar Creek fire in Winthrop, WA, which burned an area about the size of Seattle Photos provided by Jones.
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Jones spent his summer on the front lines, up close and personal with fire. Not only did he help set controlled burns and dig fire lines to prevent bigger flames, Jones and his crew were often first on the scene to combat burgeoning forest fires. He also helped fight off the Cedar Creek fire in Winthrop, WA, which burned an area about the size of Seattle. He worked 16 hours a day for 14 days straight, and slept on the side of the road while on the job.

A week after his last assignment, Jones jet-set to a new challenge: Paris, where he studied abroad for the fall. “I was just in the dirt all summer, and I’m going to the fashion capital of the world,” Jones jokes.

But that didn’t mean he would leave firefighting behind him. The experience helped Jones learn to live in the moment. “As a first responder, I never knew what each day held,” he says. “It really grounded me, knowing that I’m here to do this important job.”

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