SEK native risks life in Montana fighting wildfires

As Wildfires Continue To Ravage The Western United States, A Southeast Kansas Native Is Working To Save Land People's Livelihoods

GIRARD, Kan. – Girard native Trace Buckle is putting his life on the line more than a thousand miles from home.

“It’s not easy. Feet are hurting, I’ve lost feeling in a few toes from hiking so much,” says Trace.

He’s been in Montana since June, fighting wildfires that have ravaged the state with the company Grayback Forestry, having already burned more than 260 thousand acres.

“My first fire was outside of Ronan, Montana. It’s called the Magpie Rock Fire. It was only about three to five thousand acres,” says Trace.

But this isn’t the first time he’s been close to the heat. He actually got his start in high school.

“He started as a volunteer firefighter when he was a freshman or sophomore in high school. I never would have imagined he would grow up and move to Montana and fight wildfires,” says Trace’s Mom Robyn Buckle. “I am so very proud of him for following his dreams!”

He spent a little while in law enforcement, and around a year as a photojournalist here at KOAM, but is finally back to what he loves to do.

“It’s actually a crazy thought. I have extended family who’s affected by this. I have family that lives in California right now that are having to live through the smoke. I’ve had my cousins who, her husband’s family, have lost their homes the past three years in the fires,” says Trace. “So, hearing about all of this the past years just kind of frustrated me because I was sitting back in Kansas not being able to do anything.”

But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t taken a toll. He’s been working long brutal days for two week stretches, with two days off in between, has already been injured, and hasn’t been able to meet his son Noah, who was born in July.

“It’s been a blast but its also taken a toll on not just me, but everyone in the family. But, you know, I’m sure my son will grow up one day and be like, man, that was cool. But, kind of sucks for me not being able to see him grow up and cry and wipe his butt,” says Trace.

“Trace being gone has been hard on me as a mom knowing he is out working in these dangerous conditions. He’s already been injured once. His first fire I was unable to contact him and went several days. I ended up calling his workplace and they informed me he was okay,” says Robyn. “I’m super happy for FaceTime so he gets to at least see his baby boy Noah. It’s heartbreaking that he hasn’t yet got to meet him in person and hold him.”

So Trace is making a lot of sacrifices to help people in need. But he wants others to know that there are hundreds just like him making similar sacrifices across the country.

“Wildland firefighters have a tough job, and I know a lot of people right now are seeing what they’re going through and props to them.”

Trace doesn’t know where he will be going next. He says his crew could stay in Montana, or be sent to Oregon or California.