3.25.2011

tell the story about being bored on the fire

The summer I was fighting fires was my greatest adventure. It was the middle of July and the West was starting to burn. We were on top of the list for an off forest assignment and as such were monitoring all the big fires. Our most likely candidate was a complex of brush fires outside of Battle Mountain, Nevada. We were quite surprised to be sent all the way to the Clear Creek Fire outside of Salmon, Idaho. It took a day and a half to drive that far, all the way across the Sierra's, through Nevada and up 93 into Idaho. When we got to the fire it was clear that an all call for equipment had been made in anticipation of what was then a small fire growing into an epic fire (and this proved true, when we arrived the fire was at 30,000 acres and when we left it was at 285,000). We knew we'd be there for 21 days and got settled into fire camp. Our first week was spent covering the back side of a ridge. The work, while important, was also terribly boring. From dawn until dusk we'd sit, spread out along a mile of road, and watch for spot fires. In a sense, we were charged with making sure the fire didn't creep down the ridge and then burn up the other side of the road. The weather and terrain was severe and the fire was growing daily on every front but ours. Towards the end of that first week we were losing our minds. We were trained up, well fed and ready for some action. Watching the helicopters drop retardant could only hold our interest for so long. The road we were stationed along fronted a wide and shallow river, maybe 35 yards across. One afternoon we got to wonder if the pump on the engine could send a stream of water clear over the river and to the other side. Our pump was designed to push water a long way through hoses, not necessarily to allow us to put water on a fire at any distance. We decided our only chance was to use and inch and half hose with a half inch straight bore nozzle. This was not recommended. Four of us manned the hose while our engineer steadily increased the pressure. The hose was pushing water about half way across the river when the pressure started to pull the nozzle from our hands. We were in our heavy turnouts with helmets, gloves and goggles but they wouldn't have made a difference against a bronze nozzle flopping around with all that pressure behind it. At 80% of the pumps capacity the hose was ripped from our hand and started dancing and bashing into the ground before shooting straight up and then bashing down again. It would have split our heads down the seams or broken our backs. On an engine like ours you couldn't just cut the pressure, it had to be bled down. In the mean time we scrambled safety and for the only time that summer I did something entirely and instinctively right without having to think through the correct course of action. I jumped out of the way of the hose and dove under the truck and into the mud. With my body protected I was able to watch the hose dance and smash while everyone dodged and ran. After a few long seconds the pressure decreased and the hose fell to the ground. The four of us on the hose were splatted with mud, soaking wet and terrified. We didn't reach across the river, but we did stop work for a snack and a canteen of water and our clothes dried quickly in the scorching sun. Being bored at work has never been as thrilling as that week.

1 comment:

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