Tuesday 14 April 2015

My First Forest Fire, Part 2

    My hunger sated, it was now time for some more waiting. Around 2:00 (that's 14:00 Forest Service time), a big farm truck pulled into the parking and I helped the farmer load up the axes, shovels, polaskis (sort of a hoe/axe combination tool), pumps, fuel, tents, lanterns, cooking equipment, utensils, pots, pans, food. sleeping rolls, toilet paper, and chainsaws. You need a lot of stuff to set up a camp and fight a fire. 
    When we had it loaded we did some more waiting until it was time to get the supplies moving down the road to the helicopter pickup site. I grabbed the pack with my gear and the brown envelope with the timekeepers pads and papers, climbed into the passenger seat of the farm truck, and we rolled out of the Forest Service parking lot and headed down Highway 16. 
    It took about an hour to get to the drop-off point. I helped Ray, the farmer unload all of the tools, equipment, and food from the farm truck  and onto a nice pile on the grassy field at Dome Creek. Ray got into the truck and drove away and I did some more waiting, all alone, with all the firefighting supplies. 

    Forty-five minutes later, Alastair arrived in a green Forest Service truck to drop off JJ, Bob,and more supplies.  JJ was a hippie/jack-of-all-trades neighbor of mine, and Bob was a farmer and first aid attendant. I was happy to learn that JJ was going to be the cook. It was reassuring to have someone I knew along on this adventure. We unloaded more supplies from the back of Alastair's truck and he drove away, leaving us to do some more waiting.  
    Finally off in the distance, I heard the whop, whop, whop of the helicopter, just like in the beginning of MASH, the TV show.  It came with a rush from behind the trees, circling us, and then settling down in a flurry of flying dust, twigs, and noise. When it shut down, Grant climbed out, along with Ron and Guy (two local loggers) who were to be the fire bosses. A bus carrying the firefighters arrived about the same time.  It was decided that Grant, along with JJ, Bob, and I, would fly in first, so we could begin to set up the camp. 
    Securely buckled to my the seat, and luckily sitting by the window, we lifted off. My eyes were every where; the scattered farm houses and hayfields shrank as the horizons expanded. There was the Fraser River, now under us, and soon we were moving long the slopes of the snow capped mountains which held the McGregor river.
    “There’s the fire,” I heard Grant say through the earphones, as he pointed out a thin white column of smoke that was twisting up from a ridge. I snapped a picture, even though I didn’t see any raging flames of orange eating its way though the trees. It’s a good thing I took that picture, because it was the only time on this fire fighting adventure that I was to actually see the forest fire. 

    The camp site was a lightly treed open area beside a creek. We cut saplings for tent poles and roped up the canvas tents between the trees. We hung tarps and made tables and cut logs to sit on. As the supplies and the firefighting crew slowly arrived, they began to take over the construction of the camp, and Bob and I concentrated on helping JJ put the kitchen together and prepare the supper.  When JJ finally had the meal ready at 9:30 PM, all of those stories I had heard about eating well in fire camps was confirmed. Tired and hungry, we sat on logs and rocks and ravished the steaks, potatoes, and peas by the dim, flickering light of the lanterns and a campfire. 

    It was when the crew were called to eat and they lined up to fill there plates, that I first noticed Todd. I, having lived on the fringes of hippiedom during the late 60’s and early 70’s, and having always worn my hair longer than the norm, thus suffering the consequences for my appearance, was always drawn to those who might be kindred spirits. 
    Todd had long stingy, dirty, shoulder length, blond hair which rested atop his thin, 6’5” (2m) frame. He wore old jeans with holes in them, an old sweatshirt, and raggedy old running shoes. He looked every bit the stereotyped hippie, and as I was soon to learn, no one I have ever met, came closer to living up to that stereo-type, than “Odd Todd”. 

    After helping with the kitchen clean-up, I did my time-keeper chores. I went through all the names, trying to mentally put a face to them. I recorded the hours everyone had for the day, then repacked all the forms and pencils back into the brown envelope, did up its string-joined tie, walked over to my designated tent, slid into my bedroll, and fell asleep. 
    I was dismayed, upon awakening at 6:00 the next morning, to discover that during the night it had begun to rain, in fact, it had begun to pour. A cool grey dampness hung over the camp. I forced myself from the sleeping bag and blanket and put on my dry, but clammy clothes, and wandered over to the shelter of the tarp that served as the roof to the camp kitchen. JJ was already at work scrambling eggs and frying bacon. 

    The photo above shows First Aid Bob on the left, and JJ on the right cooking up a meal at our fire camp.

    The story continues tomorrow.

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