Daily Archives: May 10, 2014

One Swell Feller

We drove out of Crane Flat to the first fire. We followed Frank out to the site. The report said it was a smoldering tree. We found the road and drove all the way out to the end. We didn’t see anything except live, non-smoldering trees.

Frank had to communicate with the helicopter through the dispatcher. The chopper crew gave Frank some landmarks to look for, and we drove back down along the road, all the way to the beginning. Nothing.

They decided that the chopper would hover over the smoldering tree. We found the chopper. Actually, we heard it long before we saw it hovering off the road. Then we still had to fan out and hunt around for the smolder. When we stumbled across it, we barely saw any smoke even when we got right on top of it. This smolder felt anti-climactic. But…it was smoldering, and the forest was burning all around the county, so this little smolder needed to be stopped in its tracks.

The first step for isolating the burning was to drop the tree. The smoldering tree was actually kind of big, bigger than any saw we had, so Frank had to call for a felling crew. Then we waited around some more for the fellers to arrive. A two person team eventually showed up. One was a young woman who seemed to be a rookie. The other was a craggy old commercial tree feller. The rookie brushed out around the tree. Then the pro stepped in.

Most of us Corpies had fallen trees before, or had at least seen the process up close. In the simplest terms, the feller decides which way the tree needs to go down, then cuts a pie shaped wedge out of that side of the tree. Then a back cut is made from the opposite side of the tree. When the back cut is deep enough, the tree falls in the direction of the pie cut. Normally, the feller makes a back cut until the tree starts to go over, and then he/she pulls the saw out and calmly retreats from the tree as it goes over.

This craggy old pro made his pie cut. Then he made his back cut. However…when he stopped cutting, the tree hadn’t even started to move. The feller walked away from the tree, shut his saw off, and set it on the ground. The tree stood absolutely still. As he pulled his gloves off, he barked out “Tim-BERRR!” And then the tree popped. It popped again…and then started to go. As the tree crashed to the ground, the feller was rolling a cigarette.

That tree felling demonstration was worth every bit of waiting we had to do to see it.

Then our crew went to work. Using our hand tools, we grubbed a vegetation-free line all around the downed tree. When the tree had hit the ground, it had broken open around the smoldering end. Exposed to the air, the smolder finally broke out into some open flame. We were now able to use our smaller saws to cut off the burning parts of the trunk and split them open. By exposing the pieces to open air, breaking them into smaller pieces, and keeping all of those pieces contained inside our fire line, we were able to make the fire go out quicker.

In a couple of hours, we were done, and headed back to Crane Flat.

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, WildlandFire Fighting, Yosemite | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

May 10, 1987: A Real Fire. Sorta.

Yosemite Fire photo yosemitefire.jpg

My first day fighting fires was a lot like what I’ve read of first combat experiences. I was really excited when we got up and headed for the Valley this morning. It was great when we got our gear issued, then we waited a little bit before heading out for Crane Flat Fire Lookout. Then we got to fill water bottles and sharpen tools while we waited some more. Then Group B headed out while we (Group A) ate lunch and waited still more. After a while we got to go out. Not on a helicopter, as we expected to. We drove out all the way to the end of some fire road and looked around for the fire. Having no luck, we backtracked and had a helicopter hover over it a couple of times. We finally found it.

There weren’t even any flames. Just a smoldering tree and some foliage and small trees around it. We called some fallers in and they took the big tree down, then we built a break around it. It was pretty tame, actually, but I guess it was all right for a first fire.

It reminded me a lot of some soldiers’ first combat. He goes into it all sorts of expectations, then gets the ‘hurry up and wait’ jazz, and goes on endless patrols searching for the enemy, and then his first firefight is some little thing not at all resembling what he was expecting. It’s over before he realizes it.

I think it was really remarkable how fast Frank learned everybody’s name today. Having never met us before today, when he was issuing orders, he always called everyone by their correct name. Amazing.

Gearing Up photo gearingup.jpg
Tammi Garner gearing up.

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, WildlandFire Fighting, Yosemite | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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