Now, Wallace is hard-pressed to recruit crew members, and the tribe was able to field only six crews this year.
His dilemma is not unique for Indian Type 2 crews, who are not as highly trained as Type 1 crews but who are the backbone of firefighting efforts.
"Generally, we can only produce about half the crews that we were able to do 20 years ago," says Lyle Carlile, a Cherokee and director of the fire management branch at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
"These young guys, they don't have to worry about working because the parents and grandparents give them all the money and they don't have to work," he says. "These young kids now, a lot of them stay at home and lay around."
Wallace says young folks seem less interested in the outdoors.
"More or less, they're behind a computer, playing games and whatnot, whereas in the past, we never had audio-video or computers. We were out there farming and outdoors," he says.
"We've seen a casino come into a reservation that offers year-round employment. They hit us pretty hard on leadership positions," Carlile says.
"I can go get a full-time job as opposed to being here working on a fire and make pretty good money one year and not make as much money in another year," he says.
Wallace says that at Zuni, home renovation work has turned about half of the community's veteran firefighters into carpenters.