Fire Fighting Western Style
roles and assignments, the group loaded on busses headed to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
Fire camps often have unusual names taken from people, topographic features or someone's wild imagination. The Forest Service sent us to a group of three fires near Granite, Oregon called the Bull Complex. They included the Bull, Summit and Tower fires. The three fires combined were relatively small by western standards, totaling less than 4,000 acres.
Support personnel were setting up the base camp when we arrived. We were among the first five crews there. A meal caterer and shower unit had been set up, and a communication unit, supply depot, finance and time section, security unit and the all important commissary arrived later. This had the potential to become a big fire, and in one week the camp grew to over 2,000 fire fighters and support personnel.
My crew's first assignment was to go to the Bull Fire with two other crews. Our leaders told us to mop up a burned area that had jumped a road the day before. A bulldozer made a line around this "slop-over," but there were still logs burning near the control line.
Mopping up is to fire fighting what playing offensive guard is to football. There is little excitement or glory. It is essential, hard work. We were to snuff out any remains of the fire using hand tools and water from a fire truck.
After several days of similar assignments the commander of the camp assigned us to climb 7 miles and 1,000 vertical feet to another site. The rocky ascent took us over half of a day, before we finally linked up with another fire fighting crew.
We spent the rest of the day holding a control line, trying to keep the fire from jumping over it. This was done with a watchful eye, several helicopter drops and quick reflexes. Near sunset we hiked another two miles (mostly uphill) to a spike camp. A helicopter lowered a cargo net full of supplies, such as bottled water, sleeping bags, granola bars and toilet paper.
In the base camp we slept under a piece of plastic on the ground, which is good living compared to spike camp, where you are clinging to the edge of a steep mountain. Helicopters and trucks delivered meals in plastic foam coolers. One evening we ran out of paper plates and used cut-up pieces of cardboard to eat