I was half asleep and facing the back wall of the tent when I heard the tent flap open and somebody rush inside. The ‘someone’ banged around in the dark. I heard the lamp grabbed off its hook on the tent ridge pole. The person furiously pumped the plunger to build up pressure in the pot and then struck a match. I heard the ‘woof’ of ignition. Then Dave barked “George! Wake up! We’ve got a fire!”
I bolted upright in my sleeping bag and spun around, expecting to see the lamp engulfed in flame.
The lamp was just glowing normally.
I laid back down in the cot and pulled the sleeping bag back over my head.
“George! Get up!”
“Shut up, Dave.”
Dave came over and pulled my sleeping bag open. “I’m serious. There are lightning fires all over the park. A ranger was just here. We’re going on a fire!”
I bolted upright again as Dave started rummaging through his gear. He started pulling out his web gear harness that he had brought along ‘just in case’ we got to work a fire in the Backcountry. I shot off my cot and threw on a pair of brown Corpie pants and a uniform shirt. Dave attached his canteen covers to his harness. I pulled on two pairs of socks and then my boots.
“We’re supposed to get our gear together as fast as we can and then assemble behind the house,” Dave told me.
I grabbed my daypack and threw in an extra uniform, socks, and underwear. I made sure my regular gear was still in there: work gloves, two canteens, park map, compass, first aid kit, sewing kit, rain gear, and paperback book. I zipped the pack closed and secured my hard hat to a strap on the outside of my pack. I threw the pack over my shoulder and headed out the tent…before Dave.
I was the first one to the assembly area. But everybody else was only a few minutes or less behind me. Moose told us that we actually had not been called out yet. She had received an alert, but we had not been instructed to go anywhere yet. She was still waiting for that call. There was nothing to do now but…wait.
As we were milling around waiting to receive the call, Kevin and his girlfriend roared up on his motorcycle. He looked a little tipsy as he got off the bike. And then he noticed everybody standing around in our uniforms with a pile of gear on the ground…at 10:00 at night!
“What’r you guys doing?! You can’t bust trail at night! You should all be sleeping now!”
“We’re going on a fire!”
Kevin’s jaw dropped. “No way!”
“No shit?” said Kevin.
“No shit,” Dave said.
“Well, what do ya know,” Kevin said.
Then Moose came out of the house. “OK…the park ranger called.”
“Here we go!”
Moose continued, “And they don’t need us right now.”
Moose said, “But they want us to keep a radio close by. Their crews are stretched thin, and they might need us in the next few days.”
Kevin started laughing. As he led his girlfriend in the house, he cackled “Get back to bed! You got rocks to roll in the morning! You ain’t no fire crew! You’re a trail crew!”
Well, it was hard getting to sleep after that, all right. The next morning, Thursday, everybody played closer attention to the radio than normal. Any time the radio squawked, everybody’s head would snap around and stare at it, willing the call to come across for us to roll on a fire. And we rolled rocks all day Thursday. Lunch time came and went. We rolled more rocks while the fires grew. We could start to see smoke in the air around the sequoias. Friday morning came, and still no call. Friday lunchtime came and went.
On Friday afternoon, we got the call.