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.)