August 08, 2012

An Afternoon of Not-Firefighting

Helicopter fills bucket in portable tank.
That's a work light on our brush truck to the right.
Note the hat on the man watching.
Lightning and rain yesterday evening produced a magnificent 0.2 in. (5mm) of rain. Today we found the fires.

I was busy in a layout project when I heard M., who was on the veranda, start swearing. I thought she had a problem with her PowerBook. Then she came in and told me that the fire siren was blowing. I cannot hear when indoors, even with the windows open.

I started changing clothes, pretty sure that this was a wildland fire, not a structure fire. It was, two of them.

But then it turned into "they also serve who only drive around."

After the initial telephone and radio hook-ups, we ended up with me driving the brush truck, another volunteer with me (it seats two), and two more following in a private truck.

The newer fire was small, way up on a timbered ridge—a good three-hour hike from the road—on the national forest and not threatening any homes. We relayed that information to the sheriff's dispatcher.

Good, he said, why don't you go help at the D___ Creek Fire, which had been reported earlier.

So we went—18 miles over twisty mountain roads, up and down, mostly washboard gravel. We passed the fire, from across a valley, but our dispatcher does not know where the command post was.

The fire was in our county, but due to topographical reasons, the response was coming mostly from the adjacent county.

Finally we passed a US Forest Service truck, waved him down, and got the location of the command post.

We drove there, were greeted warmly — and told that the Forest Service was sending crews and air tankers and that the local firefighters were being demobilized — except for those driving water tenders, needed to fill the tank from which the helicopters were dipping water.

This message was delivered by a sheriff's deputy, but I found myself staring at his hat. It was a typical deputy's rolled-brim cowboy hat — but it had a suspension harness. What about that?

We started back up the twisty road, and my partner was asking, "Did you see his hat?"

OK, maybe I've lived a sheltered life, but I did not know you could get one of those. Neither did she, and she grew up on a local ranch.

Every day on a fire is a learning experience.

Back closer to home, we waited to refuel at the county Road & Bridge shop and watched an air tanker drop slurry on the small, high-on-a-ridge fire.  Another Forest Service guy had told us that smokejumpers were going to attack it. They did not show up today, that I saw, so maybe tomorrow. The wind is fairly calm, so thus far I am not too concerned.

There went my afternoon. I still had to fill out an incident-response form, of course.

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