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Updated Mar 7, 2013 - 7:34 am

Women in combat is new, women as firefighters old

PHOENIX -- Dozens of women will be training at the Arizona Wildfire Academy next week in Prescott while others are training in the Valley this weekend to become firefighters.

Erin Phelps, a firefighter and hotshot team member with the Coconino National Forest in Flagstaff, started out with the Pleasant Valley Hotshots on the Tonto National Forest, moved on to the Mormon Lake crew and then got a permanent job with the Flagstaff Hotshots. She spent a grand total of five years as a hotshot and that is the most demanding job in the wildfire world.

"For me it was always about the challenge. I've always been competitive and like pushing myself physically. I started working on an engine crew and saw a hotshot crew working in remote and rugged country in Idaho. I was like, 'Wow, I want to do that.' The next year I applied for being on a hotshot crew and never looked back."

Phelps said you're with the same people for six months on end in remote places, without much in the way of contact with the outside world. But that comes with being part of a tight-knit group that really becomes a second family.

"They were like big brothers watching out for a little sister."

Phelps said her crewmates knew she was one of them, but she encountered other crews or people who had no idea that she was a hotshot and that she was sometimes discounted until they worked with her.

"There's still a bit of a stigma for women to get past," she said.

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About the Author


Position: Senior News Reporter. Started with KTAR July 4, 1999.

Favorite spots in Arizona: Pinetop-Lakeside, Alpine, Greer.

Have covered some of the biggest stories in Arizona including nine of the top 10 largest wildfires in state history. The Wallow Fire in 2011 became the largest fire in state history. Rodeo-Chediski Fire in June 2002, which is the second largest fire in Arizona. Covered the Yarnell Hill Tragedy in June 2013 that left 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots dead.

Favorite movies: True Grit, both 1969 John Wayne classic and the remake with Jeff Bridges and Lonesome Dove.

Sports Teams: Washington State University Cougars, Texas Longhorns, The University of Montana Grizzlies.

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