Friday, August 15, 2008

A brief sojourn in the Park

I've worked at Yellowstone since april, but have only spent a few days actually in the park- our job has been far more likely to bring us to California this year. So when we were out in Cali and heard rumours of a fire making thousand acre runs in Yellowstone, we figured that was where we would end up next. Sure enough, we did, just in time for the fire to really lay down and mostly go out. Still, we got five days of good work in on it, mostly pulling hose from the firelines and from around structures at Fishing Bridge, rehabbing line, and general clean-up. It was gorgeous out there, and every day brought National Geographic moments- the moon coming out from behind a cloud as a bison ambles by and a flock of Canada geese fly overhead. Sunrises & sunsets over Yellowstone Lake, each spectacular and unique.

Now it seems like fire season is dying down, a really odd situation for mid-August. We'll get out again soon enough, but many crews and resources are just sitting around. Since we aren't very well paid, most folks depend on some overtime to make ends meet, especially those of us who are laid-off during the winter, and this may not pan out for many this year.

And finally, it seems almost definite that Karinne, Java, and I will be moving soon to the Black Hills of South Dakota. I got a permanent job on the Black Hills Fire Use Module, and will be starting as soon as the slow gears of government hiring can crank my paperwork through the system. It'll be a longer season there, with more prescribed fire, which is what I like. The Hills were my first experience with living in the West, way back in '96, and I've liked them ever since.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

California Stars

Sometimes I look through these pics I take on fire assignments and lament that they are not very representative of the work we do. I'm often only pulling out my camera when there is some down time. When we are chasing a spot fire, lighting off hillsides during burnout operations, or even just hauling heavy loads up and down ridiculous slopes, the camera mostly stays nestled deep in my pack. It also stays there when we are stretched out on the ground, wrapped in space blankets, trying to catch a quick nap at 3AM, or when we are putting in huge amounts of highway and dirt road time (we have covered over 10,000 miles since I started here in mid-April). I often marvel at how strange and unpredictable my job can be, especially when I think of the jobs that most other 33-year-olds hold down here in the U.S.A. For example, the other day the radio crackled to life at around 3AM, saying the winds that'd kept us from lighting off a burnout since 6PM had died down. We woke up the few that were sleeping, grabbed drip torches, and ended up igniting a hillside until around 8AM. While snapping out of a fitful half-unconscious state was hard, it was still a good shift of work, especially once it got light out. The local newspapers had opinion columns by people angry about how much control efforts focused on burnouts (the smoke aggravated them, especially since most of these fires had been burning over a month). But really, in such steep, rocky terrain, there is no other option, and I have little sympathy for people who live in the American west but don't want to deal with the realities of the ecosystem, namely the need for and pervasiveness of fire for months on end during the summer. Ok, I'm going to step down off my soapbox, crack open a beer, and make dinner.

Monday, August 04, 2008

2 weeks of the living dead

Two weeks of night shift on the Iron Complex in CA just wrapped up for us. It was a good assignment, though somewhat surreal. Sleeping in trailers with 41 other firefighters. Trying to figure out if it is lunch time at midnight or 1 am. Wolfing down breakfast and trying to get to bed as quick as possible. Burning off of close to ten miles of roads. Protecting pot plantations and buddhist temples. Being thanked by numerous strangers just for being out there. I didn't get many pics, just because it was, well, dark, but whatever. It sounds likely that we'll be in yellowstone for the next fire assignment, since there is a fire ripping pretty good in the park now.