Friday, December 7, 2012

always sending the girl to save the forest

fire season had been fairly quiet throughout the year…at least in our part of the world. the boys would get sent out all over the country but for the most part sheridan was all quiet…until september. then things got a little crazy.

my normal job for the forest service during the summer is working for the aquatics shop doing all sorts of fun fish and stream work. I am qualified to fight fires if things ever get crazy and the fire crew needs an extra body. I had been asked a couple of times throughout the summer if I could commit to two weeks, but with my commitment to the gym I wasn’t able to.

we had a fire on the south end of the forest that had been in some nasty country and it wasn’t safe to get people into it so they just let it burn.

all of the seasonals had left for the year. they typically leave at the end of august to go back to school and there are only 2-3 people left to cover specific parts of the forest. the fire management officer was down to the bare minimums when it came to people fire qualified. most of the permanent people that were fire qualified had responded to a fire in the county to help a few days earlier. he came to me on a wednesday morning and asked if I was available to roll to a fire if they needed someone. they only had one fire guy left out of the sheridan office to cover the north end of the forest. “sure” I remember saying. thinking to myself…”there hasn’t been lightening for more than week and none in the forecast. there is no chance that we’re going to get a fire.”

I went home at lunch to grab my fire gear just in case.

I was working in my little cubicle and before I knew it I heard people talking in the hall about a smoke report up by one of the lodges on the north end of the forest. I went to find the fire boy I would be going with and he had heard about as much as I had.

that same day…the fire that was being monitored to burn on the south end of the forest had taken off and was putting up a fair amount of smoke. so we thought maybe these people were looking at that fire since it seemed to be right in line. shortly after that we got a 2nd report of smoke up by twin buttes on the north end. I quickly changed into my fire gear and we hopped in the truck and rolled up the mountain. we actually had a real fire!

I wanted to have all my bases covered, so I quickly called my bosses at the gym and asked if they could possibly cover for my classes on thursday since I wasn’t certain that I would be back in time. they were super understanding and very supportive. and even managed to have a firefighter themed workout.

I’ve been on prescribed fires before, but never got to initial attack a fire. I have been on the other end of the radio in dispatch for IA fires, but never on the ground. I was excited.

we got on the fire and there were two other fire guys from the other side of the forest doing their best to catch this fire. we were anticipating working through the night to get this fire under control. as we got on scene we checked the perimeter and eventually found the origin…it was obvious it was an abandoned, illegal campfire. the forest was under pretty strict fire restrictions. the fire ended up making a run up the hill, torching trees and anything else in its path. we pulled off the fire at dark and went to the ranger station and pitched our tents…well I pitched my tent, the boys slept under the stars.

we woke up early the next morning, grabbed some breakfast and lunches for later in the day and headed back to the fire. we worked through the day on getting it lined and putting out the spots fires. I feel like I chased spot fires all day long.  I got home late friday night. I walked in the door and immediately hubby said, “woah, you’re dirty.” that I was. my face and hands were black. I smelled like sweat and smoke. I hadn’t showered or washed up since wednesday morning. it brought me back to exactly how it was when my dad would come home from fires. I remember him bringing in all his fire gear and it would fill the house with the smoky smell. I loved it. I took a shower thursday night, crawled into bed and slept pretty good. I woke up the next morning and could smell the smoke coming off all of my fire gear that was spread out in the kitchen. I rehabbed my bag and was ready for the next call.

I had to be in town friday morning for an appointment. but after that appointment I was right back to being a fire girl for the weekend.

we took some supplies up to the fire friday afternoon and then went back to town. we were available for initial attack. saturday morning we were back at the fire mopping up all the hot spots. we did a grid through the fire looking for spots. after that loop I was again dirty as could be.



we sat down for a bite to eat and kept checking the fire throughout the heat of the day to make sure it wasn’t going to flare up again.


we all spent the night on the mountain on saturday night. thankfully we were able to stay inside the ranger station because a storm had rolled through dumping a lot of rain and some serious lightening.

sunday and monday were met with patrolling the area for fires.

hunting season was upon us at this point and a lot of hunters were wanting to get fires going, but with the restrictions were not allowed so we were hoping for no more human starts through the holiday weekend.


sunday night as we were leaving we got a call about a fire on the mountain. we loaded up and headed up the hill but were cancelled before we made it very far so we were able to go home and sleep in our beds that night.

my holiday weekend rounded out with just patrolling. I was happy to be a fire girl for the weekend, but back to a fish girl on tuesday.


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