August 02, 2011

Rain, Feral Campers, and Late Summer Fire Calls

It is raining tonight. That is good, but rain means lightning, and lightning brings fire calls. Only neither of these was conventional.

First, around 6 p.m., wildlife blogger SeEtta Moss spots smoke on a ridge after a storm has passed over and calls it in. The dispatcher (the sheriff's office) alerts our department.

I jump from the dinner table, don my wildland gear and (given the reported location) head for the fire house, only to find several people standing out on the concrete apron lifting their eyes unto the hills.

That fire was clearly miles up into the national forest and consequently the Forest Service's responsibility, not ours. I filled out the incident report, listing everyone who responded. Paperwork must be done.

An hour later—another call. Why had I changed out of my fire clothes? I knew I should have just left them on.

This call was loosely tied to a mile marker on the state highway. We know this area well, for a very rough unmarked two-track road follows the bottom of a steep, forested canyon below the highway and seems to attract a feral sort of camper.

Several of our guys—two in the brush truck and one in his own Jeep—were cruising the canyon, looking for the reported smoke. The chief and another firefighter, having a high-clearance pickup, decided to drive the rough, rocky trail down into the bottom, while three of us paced up on the highway, looking and sniffing.

About the time we realized that we were indeed smelling smoke, we heard the pickup's engine—and then voices. Too many voices. Radio communication ensued.

Feral campers, the kind to whom "fire ban" is meaningless noise. The chief had told them to put out the fire a.s.a.p. If they did not, I think the rain would have done so. That spot seems to draw the people who don't want to be found, but smoke rises.

And another form to fill out. Our newly elected assistant chief was disappointed that there was no fire to fight. I am always ambivalent—I am ready to attack the fire, but not entirely disappointed to be sent home on a dark and rainy night.

Last year about this time I had grabbed a shovel and bashed my way downhill through the scrub oak to that exact same place to put out an unattended campfire.

This year, I returned to the episode of Mad Men on DVD that M. and I had just started watching when the telephone rang.

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