"That was the hardest thing ever," a much cleaner Krausz said recently between classes at Montana State University.
Those experiences, though brutal at times, were enough to make her abandon the idea of becoming a school teacher and switch to a hot new career where fire is the focus, said the MSU senior from Lewistown.
On her way to the Fort Ellis Research Center where she would learn more about MSU sheep, Krausz said she fought wildfires, inventoried hazardous fuels and planned prescribed burns during the past three summers to pay her way through college. In the process, she became so intrigued with the field of fire that she changed her major from elementary education to range science. To work as a fuel specialist, she needed a degree in natural resources. Long interested in range science and with an aunt in the field, she picked range science as her major and became active in the MSU Range Club. With that education and her summer experiences, she is guaranteed a full-time job with the Bureau of Land Management after graduation in May.
"I look back now and say, ‛How did I get here?'" Krausz said. "I thought I was going to be a teacher."
Krausz used to earn money as a babysitter, lifeguard and secretary's assistant in Lewistown. Then she graduated from Fergus High School, completed her freshman year at MSU, and took a summer job with the BLM in Lewistown. That's when the fire fascination kicked in.
"I really like this fire idea," Krausz said after working one season as a fire dispatcher. "I thought, ‛I'm going to change and do something different.'"
The summer after her sophomore year in college, Krausz joined the BLM's Student Career Experience Program. As a fuels management specialist trainee, Krausz learned how prescribed burns and mechanical means remove litter and dry vegetation so fires won't grow into uncontrolled wildfires. Krausz laid out test plots and noted hazardous fuels around central and north-central Montana. She saw how the wildlands and urban areas collide in the Little Rockies 100 miles north of Lewistown.
Katherine Illari, recruiter for the Student Career Experience Program in Montana, said the BLM program employs at least 15 students a year, but Krausz is the only fuels management specialist trainee in the state. Other students have other specialties.
Last summer, Krausz returned to the same program but with more responsibility. This time she also wrote plans for a prescribed burn that may take place this spring. She developed the plan by analyzing fuels on the ground and, with help from another fuels specialist, decided the best way to implement the plan. At the same time, Krausz continued to be on call as a wildlands firefighter. Over the years, she has fought approximately 30 wildfires in Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
"Every fire seems to be completely different," Krausz said.
She has reached those fires by helicopter, fire truck and on foot. She has gone from digging fire lines with a tool to fighting fires from a truck.
"It's really hard work," Krausz said. "But at the end of the day, it's like, "Whoa, I did that.' It's really cool."
Steve Knox, Krausz's supervisor and a fire management specialist with the BLM in Lewistown, said Krausz will either work as a fuels specialist or a fire mitigation and education specialist when she joins the BLM permanently. Either way, he predicted she would do an excellent job.
"Karly is just exceptional," Knox said. "She tackles whatever is thrown her way."
As a student, Krausz did some work that normally would have been done by a full-time biologist or forestry expert, Knox said. He added that her personality would allow her to work well with everyone from school children to "crusty old fire wardens."
"She's just great," Knox said.
Q & A with Karly Krausz
Hometown: Lewistown. Parents are Bob and June Krausz.
Major: Range science.
What's your favorite book?
"A River Runs Through It." Norman Maclean is an exceptional author. I love how he uses Montana settings to tell his stories. His descriptions of nature are invigorating.
Who are your role models?
My parents. They have always supported me in anything I've done. Both of them are such hard-working people, and they have instilled in me a good work ethic and a passion to do my best in anything I do.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I would like to be a supervisory fire/fuels specialist who has traveled the world.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org