Day One: Saddle Fire

Today was my official first day on the Saddle Fire. It may also turn out to be my last day on the fire. I got out to the line today, was assigned a dozer and operator, and got geared up to go scout the line for future rehab operations. As I was firing up my GPS, preparing to go for a hike, I heard the division trainee calling my dozer on the radio. Since he was not far from ,me I walked over to see what was up. My dozer was being demobilized…

At briefing last night I learned that the entire fire had line around it. Night shift did a small burnout with no issues, and this morning they were calling the fire 40% contained. That’s a conservative estimate. (Conservative estimates are the norm in fire containment percentages.) What I saw of the fire was pretty cold and pretty contained, with high recovery relative humidities last night and in the forecast. Suppression mode is moving toward rehabilitation mode in a hurry…

So I followed the dozer and transport back to ICP, said goodbye, and tied in with operations to see what was to be my fate. Sounds like I’ll either get demobilized too or get another piece of equipment. If an excavator comes in, I might get to run that for rehab shifts. Otherwise, I’ll probably be headed home in the morning.

So it goes.

***As I’m editing this post, I’m listening to radio traffic from air attack, discussing a possible new start not far from here.  Who knows, maybe they’ll need a dozer boss!

That is all.

Back in Business

I’m on my first real fire of the 2015 fire season. There were a few small local fires early in the Spring, but they were only type four and type five single-shift low-intensity fires. The crew did a few prescribed burns this spring too, but no “real” fires until now.

The Saddle Fire is on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest under a type two incident management team. The latest situation report listed the fire at 1,480 acres, 15% contained, with 866 personnel assigned. It grew 460 acres yesterday and threatened some structures, but hasn’t sounded too spicy today. I wouldn’t know, because I’ve just been hanging out next to the operations tent since noon, waiting for an assignment.

Ops says I should get an assignment tomorrow, but I’ll still go to the night briefing at 1800 to see if anything is going on requiring my services.

This is my first time out as a single resource, Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB). I got signed off on my taskbook for HEQB last season, but have always taken my assignments on fires the crew was assigned to already. This time I left the crew at home, borrowed a jeep from prevention, and drove myself from my home unit to the fire like a grownup. Pretty cool.

I love being on a hotshot crew. I like the missions we get as a crew, doing epic burnouts and constructing handline. I like dropping big trees when I get the chance. My favorite part of the crew at this point in my career is running a squad. I get to work with a bunch of really good dudes every day.  The only position I’ve had on the crew that I enjoyed nearly as much as squadboss was being a primary sawyer, but my time on a sawteam is over.

Yesterday, I showed up at work at 0800 like always, and did a couple hours of PT with a few of the guys since we were doing “PT on your own,” which for us was a 13 mile or so mountain bike ride. That was fun. I was getting changed after PT, getting ready to go prep a burn block when my boss called saying there was an order for HEQB in northern California and asking if I wanted it. I did. So did one of the other squadbosses. So we had one of the seniors pick a number between 1 and 20. I won.

I was on the road about an hour later and drove as long as Forest Service policy would allow a solo driver to operate. This morning I got up and hit the road at 0600 and got to ICP around 1130. I checked in as quickly as possible, anticipating a quick briefing from operations and an assignment to a division and a piece of equipment. But that’s not always the way it goes.

Hopefully there will be something for me tomorrow, and I’ll get to get out on the line doing something useful.

That is all.

Extended!

This was supposed to be my last pay period until March, 2015 or so.  I typically get laid off for four or five months in the winter because I’m a firefighter, pretty low level, and there are not many fires this time of year.  Being laid off is normally something I’ve looked forward to during some long shifts or boring shop days, but with the new house and new baby, I’ve been dreading not getting a regular paycheck.

I always save up all summer to prepare for my lay-off, and we’d have made it through, but today I managed to find some other work that will last me through the winter.  If you call the supervisor’s office on my forest, I’ll be answering the phone, fielding questions and transfering calls to “ologists” and forest overhead.  I did the same thing at the ranger station last winter, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

I’m not an outgoing person, but in certain situations, where it’s my job and feels totally appropriate, I can be quite chatty.  I know a lot about our forest and its recreation opportunities and resource uses, having lived here and worked for the forest here for seven years.  Being able to inform people about what there is to do here is satisfying.  And I won’t be unemployed.

Win-win.

That is all.

Winter is Coming

We got our first real cold spell this week.  Saturday morning I woke up to a balmy 30 degrees to go in and work some overtime, checking our prescribed fires from the week before.  It warmed up to about 60, and although it was windy and we ended up having to pick up an 8 acre slopover, it was a pretty nice day.

Sunday was bitterly cold, about 20 degrees when I left my house and spitting snow all day.  I rode a quad a few miles down a powerline to make sure the trees near it were sound, and it took five minutes after I got back before my fingers had enough feeling to remove my helmet.  Good times.  I left early and headed home to make a big batch of venison chili and light a fire in the woodstove.  Nice.

Speaking of the woodstove, it burns wood at an alarming rate.  I was too busy this summer with work and kids and other projects to get much firewood collected.  I got four or five truck loads.  A truck load is approximately half a cord.  I estimate I’ll need at least six cords to make it through the winter using the woodstove.  It’s not the end of the world if we run out of firewood and have to rely on gas heat, but I like the idea of burning with wood, and I like the process of acquiring it.

Tomorrow I’m taking off work to cut as much wood as I can.  I’m thinking I can get at least five truck loads in a day, so if I take off Thursday I might be able to get enough to make it through the winter.  Should be a decent couple of days, and I’m not missing anything at work.  The snow and rain have put an end to our precribed fire.

That is all.

Reputation

Well, the Deception Fire turned out to be a bit of a turd, but the crew did good work anyway.  There was a lot of sitting around, waiting for the conditions to be right for burning.  The fire was down in a valley and  going direct was not a good option.  Neither was burning the big box.  Oregon fires are weird like that.  We got through it though, and came out looking good, with the important fuckers there pleased with our work and attitudes.

Believe it or not, a crew’s attitude or the perception of their attitude that is formed by different crews and incident management teams is just as important to their reputation as is the quality of their work.  There are some hotshot crews who are some badass sons of bitches and work very hard creating quality line.  If they are also assholes, their reputation suffers and no one wants to work with them.  Sometimes hotshots get a little too proud of themselves for being hotshots and are rude or condescending to other resources.  Sometimes the crew leadership lacks diplomatic skills and offends their division supervisor by disagreeing with the plan.  Then things get awkward.

Being a good crew that is well-thought-of is a lot like just being a good person in life generally, I think.  Don’t be a dick to those less awesome than you, maintain a positive attitude, and be reasonable with your boss, and life is good.  Also, be prepared and able to work as hard as you can for days on end.  At the end of the day, production is still the measure of a good hotshot crew.

That is all.

Deception Fire

Today was day eight for us on the Deception Fire. It’s mostly been a waiting game on this one. The fire was down low in steep terrain and had made at least one good run out of the hole a few days before we arrived. Type one helicopters and a little rain kept it in check while the roads around the fire were prepped. We put in a canopy break and dozer line to tie some roads together and reduce the acres we’ll need to burn, but that’s about all we’ve been able to do so far.

My crew is part of a group of seven hotshot crews designated as the burn group. There are two burn groups, and ours is tasked with lighting the west side of the fire when conditions are right. We’re supposed to get west winds in the next few days, so maybe we’ll get to do some work soon. Then there will be a few mop-up shifts followed by demobilization and travel home. Unless we lose our burn that is. Then we’d be going direct til we time out, I’d imagine.

Anyway, this has been a different experience from the usual. It’s ok with me. I’ve been able to read four or five books and I’m sick, so a little extra rest and relaxation is not a bad thing at all.

That is all.

Oregon

On the South Fork Complex. It’s been a fairly stout roll for us. Lots of direct line and hiking. Today my buggy broke a leaf spring so my squad will be living out of two rental trucks for a while. Such is life but it’s always a sad day when the buggy breaks down. Feels like being being evacuated and living in a shelter. It’ll all be ok though, today was day ten.

That is all.

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