Tag Archives: Oregon

Phillips Creek Fire

Today is our fourth shift on the Phillips Creek Fire, in Oregon, on the Umatilla national forest and private land. Things are going well on our division, using a combination of dozer line and hand line to bring fire down to roads on both sides of a major ridge via sub ridges.

Putting in the line was a big day for the crew. Everyone worked hard for most of the shift after a slower morning. I got assigned to dozer boss and got to take one of the guys from my squad as trainee. We walked the proposed ridge, talked with the scouts and leadership on my crew who were walking the fire’s edge on the next ridge to the northwest, and started pushing line.

The dozer operation went well, and we pushed a contingency line on the next ridge as well. My trainee did a great job. It was good that his first shift with heavy equipment involved some extensive scouting and let him see the capabilities and limitations of dozers and the operators. An experienced operator can do things with his machine that make me nervous, but they seem to always know when quit. The line reached a point were it dropped off too steeply to go any farther and still be able to track back out. Since there was no way out the bottom, we had to pull the plug on dozer line there.

After the heavy equipment tracked out, the crew was able to fully engage, having been relegated to cutting out ladder fuels and snags behind the dozers during the line-push. While my trainee and I were pushing the contingency line, the sawyersa started cutting out the ridge down to the road. They cut all the small trees for about sixty feet of the hand line location and the swampers dragged the cut material across, into the “green”. Black and green are the terms we use to orient ourselves to which sides of the line will be burned and unburned. The saw teams also cut the lower limbs off of larger trees, and cut down dead ones to aid in keeping the fire on the ground when we burn off the line.

Once the saw teams made some progress, the remaining crew members started digging, extending off the end of the dozer line. Sometimes the dig gets lucky, able to utilize natural features or just knock a layer of leaves off with a few swings to create a good fire line. This time they were not lucky at all. There was a thick layer of bear grass all the way to the road that had to be chopped out about eighteen inches wide, and under the grass was a lot of organic material and rocks. As my supervisor said to the guys after the shift, they did a great job; it doesn’t get much worse than that.

The dig had been working for two hours by the time I got back to the crew. I dug with them for about two hours and then got sent to get the vehicles. That way the guys would have a ride to camp when they finished the line instead of having to hike back out. It was only an eight hundred foot elevation gain, but after a hard day, that can be rough. Just those two hours of digging, on top of the hiking I did working the heavy equipment, had my biceps cramping up. Some of the other guys in the dig were cramping up even worse. But they drank some water, took some ibuprofin, and got the line in before dark.

Big day.

Tomorrow we will finish burning it down to the road.

That is all.

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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.

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