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Friday, September 6, 2013

Yeah, They Look Good

The next morning on the strike team we awoke (to be honest we all woke up a lot that night) and got ready for the day. A little after 6 in the morning our strike team leader came back from the morning briefing with our assignment. We would be doing structure protection for the day.

Light smoke puffs from the mountain behind the town.

Structure protection is one of those assignments that is very important even when the building aren't in much danger. It comes down to public perception. It's peace of mind to the home owners. I can just picture the incident commander looking at our nice, fairly new, shiny engines all from the Governors Office of Emergency Services and thinking to himself that they would be perfect for instilling confidence in the local residents.

The first part of our shift we went around to the homes we were assigned to protect. We talked with the owners and learned about their property. What potential danger areas they had such as gasoline. And if they had any livestock that we needed to worry about.

Structure protection assignment.

At one such residence they had built everything there by hand. They had a workshop in the barn that would have made my dad proud. The wife came out to greet us and told us how grateful they were. The night before was the first night they had an engine sitting outside their house and she said it was the first time her family had been able to sleep since the fire began.

Later in the shift the fire started making a small run. One by one the crews from our strike team were pulled from our assignment and given a new one: direct fire attack.

We drove up to a small clearing and parked. There we donned hose packs, backpack water pumps and hand tools. Then we followed the hose line down the hill. And I mean down.

The blacked or burned area of the fire. Some of the terrain was even steeper.
We finally met up with the other crews at the end of the hose line. We were in a race to "hook" the fire. Hooking the fire is when we are able to work around the front of the fire stopping its forward progression. When a fire is burning uphill it's next to impossible to do. When it's moving downhill like this fire it's a challenge.

While we were working the weather report came in. There was a thunderstorm bearing down on us bringing with it very erratic winds. Every so often the radio would crackle and we would get an update. It was coming....soon.

We managed to stretch the hose line far enough to hook the fire. While some guys were working there others were hiking up and down the hill putting out spot fires that had slopped over our small fire line. Still others were making the trek back to the engines to get more supplies, hose and drinking water mostly.

Then it hit.

The wind picked up dramatically going from 1 and 2 mph breezes to 20+ mph gusts in all directions. The fire, now being fanned, grew. Containment lines were no longer effective. We were told to evacuate the fire line. We made a quick as you can march up the mountain side to the engines. Once we were all accounted for we headed down the hill before the rain made driving even more treacherous.

Thankfully the storm was just long enough to get everything wet. That in combination with nightfall (fires generally burn slower at night) slowed the fire down.

That evening our strike team was invited by one of the families in the are for dinner. They were making spaghetti, salad and garlic bread for all of us. Since there was still no food in base camp (even if there was it wouldn't be as good as a home cooked meal) and we didn't want more MRE's we gladly accepted. We ate in the barn/tool shop and it was delicious.

Dinner in the barn.

The family ended up cooking enough for a few other crews as well. They must have fed some 30 hungry firefighters. Amazing people.

If you read this, again, thank you.

To be continued....
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