Charlie wrote:

Or give something to your local volunteer fire service. In a few
> months, it'll be the northern hemisphere on fire.

So true.  There were two fires in Santa Cruz county last June which, prior
to that, had been known as "asbestos county" because of the lack of
wildfires over the previous century or so.  My sister's brother, his brother
and his brother's son are all firefighters, so I get a little of the inside
poop.  Here's a little bit of it from my brother in law.  The background is
that he's a firefighter in the Santa Cruz area but has been assigned to a
strike team fighting a fire in Butte county north of Sacramento, near where
Jo Anne lives.

We arrived at Chico Base on June 25th with a strike team of 5 Type I engines
and a leader.  We were generally on a 24 hour schedule, although our days on
usually started by 5am and we never really relaxed until dinner time the
next day.  When in base camp we ate large portions of institutional food
served in a huge building on the Fairgrounds.  On the days we deployed we
picked up sack lunches and MRE's and filled coolers with ice, water and
Gatorades.  Showers were available in a trailer unit after standing in lines
using a disposable towel.

Because of the heat and workload we all drank gallons each day to avoid
dehydration.  Some nights we were able to catch naps on the fire line or a
dusty Drop Point on the ground or pretzled into the engine.  We cut fire
line with hand tools both directly and indirectly on the fire.  We also put
in long hose lays to directly fight fire or to support another operation.
 We worked with other firefighters from all around the state each day.

After working above the dusty Concow area for 10 days we were ready for a
change.  We were assigned structure protection on the 7th up the Feather
River Canyon at the small hamlet of Tobin.  Here we deployed and prepared
the structures in case the wind picked up again and blew the fire across the
river.  At about 10 pm we were re-deployed to structure protection the in
Concow area.  We were told that the Camp Fire had crossed a control line and
was headed directly towards Concow with our nearest strike team a while

We were assigned to Mountain Pine Rd.   We assessed the 4 houses, 2 of which
were occupied.  We urged both families to leave as soon as they could as we
saw the orange glow approaching across the canyon.  With 4 homes and only 1
engine we were faced with the tough decisions.  We chose to make a stand at
the house we were most likely going to be able to save.  Fortunately the
homeowners seemed to know what we would be doing and the house was nearly
prepared for us.  They had moved most of the combustibles away, had a green
lawn with only a few trees and ladder fuels directly next to the house.
They already had a ladder to the house roof as well as the garage.  All of
the garden hoses were accessible.  The house had wood siding and,
thankfully, a composition roof.  Although the homeowners had left the house
locked one of our crew members was able to crawl in to the garage through
the dog door and then we pulled the pins on the door to the house.  We
unlocked all of the doors so we could easily access the house if we needed
to.  We checked for light drapes or any other combustibles in front of the
windows.  Then back outside where we moved the wooden patio furniture into
the garage.  Up on the roofs we went to check for combustible litter.  The
engineer deployed a hose line to the front of the structure and another to
the front as well as a self-protection line on the ground.

We knew the fire was approaching as we heard the freight train sound.  We
saw the orange glow take definition as the flames crowned in to the nearby
trees.  The other engine on the road closer to the fire had reported such
extreme fire behavior that they had already taken shelter in their chosen
residence.  I knew we were next.  The roar of the crowning fire got louder
as it circled us at first then started numerous spot fire behind us.  My
crew stayed on the hose line taking shelter until an object near and
directly threatening the home began to burn, these spots are where we
concentrated our efforts.  There was no way we were going to put out this
fire with our 600 gallons of water so we were in conservation mode.  The
engineer used his hose line to keep our engine from burning on the side
directly facing the flame front.  There was a tree on fire next to the house
which we pulled the line to, then the wooden fence, then the wood pile on
the back side of the large garage.  The line would not reach so we added
another 100' of Wildland inch-and-a-half.  All the while we were breathing
in hot air and smoke and being pelted by burning brands and over 50 mph
winds with the fire as loud as a locomotive and flames well over the height
of the mature trees rolling over our heads.  The smoke, heat embers and
inability to see or breath was finally such that we took shelter in the
house.  I think it was only 4 or 5 minutes we were there, until we could
catch our breath.  It was a moment I think, that we all gained 3 new
brothers, the overwhelming emotion of survival was that strong.

We went back out and continued the battle until the main fire front passed
our location.  It may have been 45 minutes or 45 hours!  We turned to head
down Concow back towards the rest of the strike team.  Although was still
more fire all around us that I may have seen in my nearly 30 year career it
was ground fire and torching, not the crown fire we had just experienced.
We made our way down the hill, stopping at structures and fighting fire,
giving our tank water to another engine, stopping a grass fire from
consuming another house.  It was 4:30 AM when we were given a break in a
large field in the Camelot area.  15 minutes later we were back on the
Concow.  Everyone needed a break but there was only a few other strike teams
in the area and there were many houses in jeopardy.  We worked until about
9:30 until our strike team leader assigned us back to Mountain Pine Road to
check the structures.  As we turned onto the street we were elated to see
"our" house was still standing.  We were sobered at the same time when it
was surrounded by a moonscape of totally burned trees and houses down to the
foundation, lonely grey shells of cars, boats, carports, and outbuildings.

We backed into the saved house and walked around, dousing burning trees and
stumps.  I fell asleep in the engine seat and was awakened by a knock on the
window.  There were 2 CalFire employees standing outside.  I stepped down
and they asked me if our crew had saved the house earlier in the evening.  I
answered yes.  He said, "Thanks for saving my parents house".

So we rolled out of the Concow, watching our brothers and sisters fighting
fire and saving homes.  I know that we lost 40 or 50 structures that night
but you never hear on the news how many we saved, how many stories just like
ours are out there.  We drove into Chico base barely awake with the hopes
that we would be going home the next day.  Because of the blowup Tuesday
morning another 30 strike teams were ordered.  We were told that we had to
work 1 more day.  Wednesday we found

ourselves in Paradise, accessing neighborhoods again in case the fire jumped
the Feather River .  Fortunately the weather cooperated and we were released
the next day.  We got back into Santa Cruz Thursday after being gone 15

Reply via email to