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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Now That Was A Spicy Meal

As we pulled out of the station the radio came to life. We, along with the rest of our first alarm assignment, were responding for a structure fire. PD was on scene as was reporting smoke coming from the garage. 

The first thing we noticed when we were pulling up was the complete absence of smoke. Meh. The next thing we noticed were all the cop cars.

I jumped off the truck as soon as the airbrake was set. The sergeant told me that they had a pair of burning chonies in the garage.

I made my way into the clutter filled storage space that was supposed to be able to house a vehicle and sure enough there was a smoldering pair of tighty whities. I grabbed a metal pole from among the crap (that wasn't an intentional pun but it is funny) and lifted the underwear.

As I was moving them out to the driveway I held up the garment and told my captain that that had to have been one seriously spicy meal (another bad pun).

We used the thermal imager to make sure there was nothing else burning in the garage.

Afterward I asked one of the officers what the story was. He said that they had showed up that morning to arrest a parole for not checking in the previous week. The bad guy had been in the garage and heard the officers pull up. In a vain attempt to get away he lit the underwear on fire and then ran out the door....directly into the arms of a waiting officer. The felon had a history of running and the good guys had been prepared for that.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The End Of The Rim Fire....At Least For Us

By day 15 we were tired. We were ready to go home. 15 days is a long time to be at work. But the last day would prove to be the best.

Heading into our assigned area.

Our final groundhog day morning. We ate breakfast and stocked up on supplies. Our strike team leaders came back from the morning briefing with our assignment. We were to head back to the same place as the day before to do the same thing. Hold the line and support firing operations.

While we drove up the same dirt fire road as the previous operational period it was now different. The firing operations from the night before left the area under a blanket of smoke instead of just the haze that there had been. In places the backfire was still going strong.

Really dangerous snags were marked.

We spent the day on our assigned section of the line watching the fire burn. Every few minutes the fire would ignite a dead tree and you would hear a giant whoosh sound. While intensely fascinating it was also a reminder that we really weren't in control there. If mother nature decided not to cooperate we would be booking it out to a safety zone as fast as could. Working along side a Hot Shot crew from Arizona brought home the fact that there wasn't always time to get to safety.

That evening it looked as if we weren't going to get to burn. The weather was not developing as the weather man had predicted. Then, about the time of sunset, we received word. We had another type 3 strike team headed in to back us up. We would be burning the hillside.

The previous few days of backfiring operations had been on a down slope. This means the fire has to crawl down the hill into the vegetation. This is a slow process and allows for a much more controlled burn. That night we would not be so much in control. We were burning uphill which means the heat from the fire below heats up the bushes and trees above it. This allows the fire to spread very rapidly.

The Hot Shot crew grabbed their drip torches (torches with a mixture of diesel and gasoline used to ignite brush) and walked part way up the hillside in a diagonal line. The person farthest up the hill went first laying down a line of fire. Then the others followed in order on down the hill. This allows the fire to become hotter further up the hillside from the fire line thus drawing the fire away from the area we wanted to remain unburned.

This tree lit up just after we pulled away from it.

At first the fire just seemed to smolder. We watched and nothing seemed to change. Then a small orange glow started to silhouette the surrounding trees. The shadows started to flicker. The crackle of the fire became louder. Soon the now familiar whoosh of a dead tree going up like a roman candle could be heard.

We were instructed to move down the road a ways to keep up with the Hot Shot crew. Just after leaving our spot a pine tree right along side the road torched off. What a spectacular sight. That had to be a little exciting for the crew that was next to it.

As the night drew on more and more fire was put on the ground. The entire mountain side was ablaze. The fire was now a full on roar. Trees that had burned out on the bottom, called snags, would come crashing down.  Burning logs would come rolling down the hill toward us.

While we would have to avoid being hit by one of these flaming missiles we also had to make sure they didn't get past us into the unburned area. Every time one would hit the road several firefighters with hand tools would run over to it to extinguish it. The nearest engine would also come over to help.

It's dark out there away from the fire.

By then the fire was so hot that I couldn't stand with any exposed skin toward the fire. Time flew by as we battled the fire.

A little perspective. That's a lot of fire.

Some time around 3 in the morning a snag that was over 150 feet tall decided to fall. during its decent it broke in thirds. The lower 2/3rds fell into the fire. The upper third, which was unburned, fell onto the fire road a little in front of a fire engine.

I was in our engine behind the one that was almost hit. I jumped down and headed over to make sure no one was injured. In just a matter of moments the division leader was calling on the radio asking if everyone was accounted for.

After that snag it was decided that we would pull back to either end of the back fire and watch from there. If it appeared that the fire jumped the line we would go attack it. While this would put us behind the ball in stopping the fire if it crossed it had the advantage of keeping us from possibly being squished by a falling tree. In my opinion, a plus.

The next morning we drove out. We would not return to the Rim Fire. After a rest period we were demobilized from the fire.

Heading home.

Thankfully the crew that was on duty at the station where the OES engine is kept were willing to clean it up. They allowed us to just grab our gear and head home for some real rest and recuperation.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


The next work period we were assigned to a North East section of the fire. This was one of the more active areas.

The Rim Fire burning at night.

During backfiring firefighters wait for favorable winds and then light a fire that will burn toward the main fire. That means almost all firing operations are done at night when, because of the change in temperature, winds usually flow down canyon.

There was a lot of smoke from the fire giving the forest an almost eerie feeling.

But all that means that in the morning, when temperatures start to rise, the winds will head up canyon and try to push the fire that we started over the fire line. Our job during the day was to prevent this from happening.

Up close this is how a lot of the forest appeared.

In our division we had a couple of type 3 strike teams, a type 6 strike team, a couple of hand crews, water tenders, a hot shot crew out of AZ and quite a bit of heavy equipment.

Staging area.

This beast eats trees.

The day was spent chasing spot fires with hand tools and progressive hose lays. At one point a spot fire started running up the hill faster than we could even hike. There was an "Oh crap" feeling going through most people until a bulldozer operator saved the day. He had taken another fire road and was ahead of the fire. He was able to retard it forward motion while we prevented any lateral spread. About that time the Division Leader called on the radio and said to let it burn. That entire area was slated for burn operations that night.

A hike up a bulldozer trail.

Setting a progressive hose line in place for that nights firing operations

That night we were we shifted gears. We were now on the offensive with the fire. The Hotshot crew started backfiring while we made sure the fire didn't jump. We were able to see some amazing views as the fire spread through the forest. For the most part just the underbrush burned. Every once in a while a dead tree would ignite and put off an amazing show.

The fire put on an amazing show that night.

Some time around 3 in the morning our side of the fire went cold. The Division Leader pulled us back into the staging to use as a reserve unit in case things went wrong else where. We spent the last few hours of our shift there.

Morning breaks...sort of.

Sunrise at the end of our work period. Time for some rest.

Monday, November 4, 2013

There Really Is A Fire

The next work period we were assigned to structure protection again. And again, we were several miles from any fire. In fact, we still hadn't seen the fire.

Base camp
During the day we were assigned to a larger area than the previous day. We checked out the houses and found one elderly couple that still hadn't been able to clean away all of their pine needles and brush from around the house. It was evident that they had been making an effort but those efforts had fallen short.

Structure protection
Another crew longing to be closer the the fire line.
In talking to the couple we found out that they had been doing a little each day but when the fire started, and the smoke enveloped their house, they found that they couldn't do the work. Each of us on our own had reached the same conclusion. We would be doing some yard work.

Doing work.
We made several piles of pine needles that were well away from the house.

First we finished checking all of the other houses to which we were assigned. Then we went back and helped the aging grandparents clean up their yard. We managed to get all of the pine needles into neat piles away from the house when we were pulled back to the staging area by our strike team leader.

En route to our new assignment.

We had a new assignment. One involving fire (at least more than we had seen so far).

Finally! Active fire.

Our strike team had been reassigned to back up firing operations. There were hot shot crews lighting backfires and it was now our job to make sure those fire didn't jump over the fire line. We spent the rest of the afternoon and all night on this assignment.

The fire.

Late that night I was staring up at the stars and saw something flying in random patterns way above us. As a crew we decided that it must be a drone mapping the fire. About 30 minutes later we heard the radio crackle. "Division Bravo, the drone shows that you have a spot fire about 100 yards over the fire line." That confirmed it.

This was the fire line to which we were assigned.

Whoever was flying the drone was able to pick out the different makes of fire engines on the fire line and was able to direct the nearest crew to the spot fire. That was cool.

The rest of the night we watched our small section of the fire and took turns napping in the rig. When morning finally did come we headed for base camp.

These are some of the pieces of heavy equipment that were being used to make a fire break.

That day we headed back to the same hotel. The staff was really appreciative of the work we were doing so they had a BBQ for us at dinner. Unfortunately for them their BBQ had had enough. Part way through dinner it collapsed. At the end of our deployment we all pitched in and bought them a new one. 
© FireMedic and Firefighter/Paramedic Stories, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to FireMedic and Firefighter/Paramedic Stories with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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