|Heading into our assigned area.|
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.
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.