Friday, July 20, 2007

Fire Fighting

I am feeling a little nostalgic this evening. I've been reading the agenda for my High School 50 year class reunion. It doesn't feel like it's been that long since I felt that I could conquer the world. Anyway, as thoughts go, I soon found myself remembering my days as a wildland fire fighter. I had started working for the US Forest Service a week or so before graduation, classes were done and we were just waiting for the evening of graduation. I had to lie about my age, I was only 17, but I found myself on the brush crew/fire crew for the Fort Rock District of the Deschutes National Forest. We lived in a camp in the forest about 40 miles from Bend, Oregon with an older Crew Boss and his wife(she was the camp cook). We spent our days stacking slash from previous logging activities along the many miles of road in the district. We did spend time in fire fighting practice including falling a large dead snag about 3 feet in diameter with a hand saw. That was a lot of work and we were glad that we had a large supply of chain saws in our truck to do the heavy work. We were just dying to fight a fire and prayed for lightening storms. When the long anticipated thunder storm came along there was only 1 fire started in our area. It was a fire in the top of an old dead snag and rather than send the fire crew they sent the fire guard who was stationed at our camp for just such a situation. The guard found the fire about a mile off the nearest road and called for two guys to bring a chain saw and some fire rations because we were going to be out all night. The crew boss selected me and another guy to carry out the mission. We were pumped! Our first fire! We were finally going to see flames! They took us out to the jump off point and let us out. We packed our packs with water and food and fuel for the chain saw and set off, me with the pack and a shovel, and the other guy with the chain saw and a Pulaski. We found the fire guard with no trouble by following the smoke from the fire. We arrived at the fire fueled by adrenalin ready to fight the raging flames. To our disappointment the "fire" was at the top of a 100 ft snag and showed no flames, only a little smoke from the rotten wood at the top of the tree. None the less, we got out the chain saw, cleared an area for the tree to fall in and proceeded to fall the tree. The chain saw made quick work of the falling and it took us less than 20 minutes to put out the smoldering fire. Firefighting rules called for the fire to be out for 12 hours before declaring the fire dead out, so we sat down and ate out supper and prepared to spend the night at the "fire". We had forgotten to bring coats or sleeping bags and it got cold quite quickly after the sun went down. So we had to build a campfire to keep warm. We wound up digging trenches for our bodies, filling them with hot coals from our campfire and then covering that with a thin layer of dirt. That way the down side was warm and the up side was cold. When the up side got too cold we would roll over and warm the other side. It was one of the most uncomfortable nights I ever spent. The next morning it took us longer to put out our campfire than it did to put out the tree fire. The only upside of our first "fire" was that we got 12 hours of overtime.

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