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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

It started out small enough, and by the time the first scout unit arrived at the request of the Forest Service, it was still only about 10'x30'.  Unfortunately, the scout unit wasn't a suppression unit, and the Forest Service didn't have resources nearby.

The scout unit thought they could hold it if only they had water, but it was a 20-30 minute response for something that could throw water.  It was worth a shot, and they called in some help.  We got caught up in that request as well.

Things didn't quite pan out as hoped despite best intentions, and it officially became a crapstorm after the USFS finally did arrive to help and promptly tumbled one of their engines down an embankment and into the path of the fire. At least no one was in it, thank goodness.

By the time I arrived with others from my agency, the unnecessary frenzied tone set by the lost engine was in full effect, and there were also at least two ICs.  We parked our rigs and advised up the chain that we were going to remain in staging until there was only one IC.  That took about 20 minutes to get resolved.

When Squad 51 finally got an assignment from an IC that we were willing to listen to, it was to patrol the fire line established on an access road, where the fire had already burned.  Warning bells are going off in my head, because we're uphill of the fire, and the initial burn did not consume all the fuels.  USFS guys are with us on the line, and I foolishly allowed things to proceed assuming the experts wouldn't do this if there was cause for concern.  The rotor was making drops on the far side of the burn, the active front, but lots of smoke is still rolling up the hill and over our location.

Sure as hell though, a little wind shift pushes the fire around a bit, and then a large slash pile lit off just down the road below our rigs.  25' flames are blowing across the road and into the green between us and our escape route.  Every time the wind blows the heated smoke at us, we have to lean into the bottom of the drainage ditch on the access road to get air.  Eyes and lungs burning.  This is genuinely frightening, been quite a while since I had a true pucker moment like this.

About five years ago, I allowed the very same thing to happen.  Got assigned uphill of a fire that sure as hell came up the hill.  Drop and run was the order, and although we lost several hundred feet of hose we were lucky enough to get the rigs and people out without injury.  I said at the time, after that legit scare, that I wouldn't let it happen to me again.

And here I am, eyes burning and tearing up, rubbing them, trying to see so I can drive my rig out during a momentary lapse in the wind when the fire isn't blowing across the road.  If not for the rotor being diverted to drop water on the fire near the road by us, the outcome might have been different.

I try to keep the language clean here, but in this case I think it is warranted to say fuck that noise, never again!  It is trees and grass, we weren't even protecting any nearby houses.  Not worth it by any stretch of the imagination.  What the hell were we ever even given that assignment for, with such high risk and negligible value in holding that line with limited resources?

Don't be afraid to question orders. The 10 & 18 are there for damned good reasons and paid for with many lives.  We all owe it to those that paid the price to heed their lessons.  Fooled me twice, shame on me.  Never again.

Stay safe out there.