Daily Archives: June 10, 2014

First Afternoon of Fire

That first afternoon we completed a patrol around our assigned section of the entire fire perimeter. The fire line was a literal line scratched onto the forest floor through the duff down to the mineral soil. It’s critical to get this line down to dirt and rock…stuff that will not burn, or else the fire will just mosey on through the line and keep burning. Everything outside of the fire line is green…trees, grass, brush. Most everything inside the line is black. ‘Most everything’ because not everything in a ‘burn area’ necessarily burns. Wisps of smoke rose from the ground and from charred trees everywhere inside the line. We attacked the more significant ones right away. We dug into the dirt with the grubbing edge of a Pulaski to expose and cool off the hot material. We broke up smoldering pieces of wood and duff to dissipate the heat and cool them down. Flames licked from the ground up into bushes that were not yet fully consumed. One of us would go over and root out the burning material and spread it out as well. One of us carrying a piss pump would wet down the flames and hot smoldering material.

We did not spend too much time right now on any particular area. Stretch’s main job for us that afternoon was to see in the daylight the entire terrain we would be covering. We hiked our assigned section of the perimeter several times. Stretch pointed out to us things we would be addressing the next day, such as the few trees that needed to be felled back into the burn area. These trees needed to be dropped because if they caught fire and fell across the fire line, the fire would escape and take off again. The Hot Shot crew had tackled most of those trees, but there were still a few for us to fall.

The two Yosemite fire fighter ‘grunts’ had a hard time keeping up with us as we moved around the perimeter. Listening to Stretch talk to them, it soon was obvious that this was their first season as fire fighters. Whether they would be back for a second season was open for debate right now. We Corpies would be right behind Stretch as he legged his way up and down the steep grades. This was the part of firefighting that we already knew all about! Every so often one of his guys could be heard from way behind “Stretch! Wait up!” Stretch started getting irritated with them. “Geez! C’mon! These guys are keeping up with me just fine, and they’re not even fire fighters! Get with it!” And then he would not slow down.

By sundown we had made several trips back and forth across our perimeter. No open flames remained…at this time. Stretch had a plan for the next day. We went back to our campsite for dinner. Dinner on these fires was MREs. Army rations. MRE stands for Meal Ready to Eat. Each meal comes in a big heavy-gauge plastic bag. Each bag contains a main course, a side dish, dessert, instant coffee, plastic utensils, toilet paper, and chewing gum. Each part was in its own little plastic pouch. The concept was simple. Tear the top off the pouch, add hot water, let it sit several minutes, and there you had it. An instant dinner. That first MRE went down pretty well. We had worked up quite an appetite.

We sat around talking for a while, and then everybody turned in for the night, two to a sleeping pit on the uphill side of a tree. As I crawled into my sleeping bag next to Glen, I took my boots off and set them carefully right next to my bag. I fell asleep to the sight of stars and the smell of smoke.

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

Second Round

Round Two of our Yosemite fire experience saw us return to Crane Flat Fire Lookout. We saw our old pals Hal and crew again. There was one big difference this time, though. The first time we were here, the helicopters were a JetRanger and a BullCow. (Well…we thought they said BullCow. Years later I realized they were saying ‘Bölkow’.

This time there was a BullCow and a Huey!

Ever since I was a little boy in Illinois, my favorite sound in the world had been Huey helicopters. Not just any helicopters…just the Huey! The rotor blades were designed in such a way that they made an incredibly bass chopping sound as they cut through the air. The sound is distinctive.

The only other helicopter a Huey’s sound can be mistaken for is a Chinook, which has twin rotors and engines and rotors that are the same as a Huey’s. (A Chinook just sounds like two Hueys!) I was stoked just to be on the same helipad as one. Dave Amaral’s dad had flown Hueys in Viet Nam. He might have been more stoked than I was!

This time around the fires we were being assigned to were different, too. No silly smolders this time! WE were going to be relieving a Hot Shot crew. They had a 100% line around this fire on the top of a mountain just a five minute flight away from Crane Flat. We were going to continue to mop it up, freeing the Hot Shots to go attack another fire. As before, Yo 2 was split into two teams. I was in the team with Glen as crew leader, Mark, Dave, and Chris. We were assigned to a Yosemite fire boss, ‘Stretch’ Stephenson, and two Yosemite fire fighters. We were going to the high side fire line. Moose took the test of the crew with a Yosemite fire boss to the low side fire line.

The first group to shuttle out to the fire flew in the BullCow. The Huey sat silently on the helipad. The word was that we were all going to go in on the BullCow. What a let down that was, with the beautiful Huey sitting right there.

Then the BullCow had a mechanical problem. It limped on back to Crane Flat and then had to be sent down to Fresno for repairs. Everybody else was going to go in on the Huey! Woo-HOO!

I loaded into the Huey with Glen and Dave. The doors closed. The rotors spun up with that ol’ Huey ‘whup-whup-whup’. As we lifted off, Glen, Dave and I simultaneously howled out “Fucki-i-i-i-ing Bueno-o-o-o-o!”

The flight was over in no time. We left the Huey and some Hot Shots got on. Stretch was already there, coordinating the turn over with the Hot Shot boss. It wasn’t long before our whole team was in place and all of the Hot Shots were gone. Stretch’s first order of business for us was to set up a camp. He picked a place just over the ridge from the helispot. There was no level ground anywhere on that mountain. We wound up digging out sleeping pits on the uphill sides of trees. We made them as level as we could, and made room for two sleeping bags in each pit. I was going to be partnered up with Glen.

(Note: It seems obvious to me, but this nagging in the back of my head says that I need to point out none of the helicopter videos in this post are of Yo 2. I found them all on YouTube simply to illustrate the post, so readers can see and hear the things that I am talking about. Thanks.)

Categories: Backcountry, Camping, CCC, Helicopters, WildlandFire Fighting, Yosemite | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.