Bumping Lake Dispatch

August 10th began with a drive to Naches Ranger Station; Crew 75 was on it’s way to beautiful Bumping Lake to help with a ‘fire use (or ‘managed for multiple objectives’) fire.’ When we arrived we realized that we would spend the majority of our time on the dispatch doing thinning/project work along the lake. Each day we hiked out a road to begin our work. The first two days we helped with a bit of public traffic control, and I had the chance to learn how to do traffic control using a radio (it took a minute to get used to it). The sawyers worked their way along the road falling the prescribed amount of trees (the prescription for the site was something like: take all live trees 5 inches or smaller, take all dead trees 7 inches or smaller, and leave the rest). The rest of the crew, the ‘chainers,’ worked to chain the branches and debris to the road into piles to be chipped. We spent a few days chaining to the road, then under different fire management ideas, we chained the branches back into the woods (farther out from where it had been cut). The incident commanders were deciding the best way to arrange the fuels in case the fire made it’s way out of the wilderness and down to the lake. I suppose I should mention the fire, the reason we were there. It was a wilderness fire, Incident 246, Boulder Creek Fire, which was being managed for multiple objectives. This meant that there was no need to go into the wilderness deemed area to suppress a fire that was started naturally by lightening. We were there to help manage the area on general forest service land where people had cabins along the lake that would be easily swept over if the fire came over and down the ridge to the lake. The objective of our work was to create a fuel break between the structures and the fire, so that the fire would slow and creep down the hill when it reached the area we thinned. This job is all about caring for the land and serving the people. We spent a few days working on the thinning and chaining, then later in the week we worked with the wood chipper for the day. The last days of our dispatch were pretty relaxed, we helped with more fuels distribution, checked the pump hose lay (which was gravity fed from a sock in a creek up the hill; very cool), and by August 17th we were on our way back to Leavenworth. It was quite a luxurious dispatch, we made overtime and hazard pay each day, were fed amazing meals two times a day (with a semi-less incredible sack lunch in the middle), and camped out at the Naches Ranger District Work Center (showers and real bathrooms available). I was quite proud of my fire fighter self for making it through the entire week without showering though, hopefully I wasn’t too terribly smelly. Overall it was a great experience to get a taste of what a dispatch is, to spend more time with my crew before I head home in a few weeks, and to get out in the woods and away from cell phones and the internet for a week.

Beautiful place to spend a week…

Watching the sawyers during my shift of road guard…

View at the beach while we were pulling out the pumps…

Chipping our wood piles…

Lovely salt stains, working hard…

These beetles are EVERYWHERE, they fly around from tree to tree, and when they land on your hard hat it feels like a rock hit you…

The last view of beautiful Bumping Lake…

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…the thunder rolls, and the lightening strikes.

Well, I officially feel one step closer to being able to call myself a fire fighter. I experienced the heat of the flames and the suffocating smoke this week; exciting eh?! A huge front of dry, then wet, thunderstorms rolled through Leavenworth and started quite a few fires. My crew was called to a lightening caused fire after patrolling for a day near Peshastin. We worked through the night digging a hotline around the Peshastin Creek fire, it was tough work for the diggers but was even more tough for the sawyers (the brush was so thick, the slope was steep, and it was dark). While we were digging a cup trench around the bottom of the fire, we were able to see our cup trench work and catch a huge flaming log roll out, luckily we were out of the way. Then further up the line, there was a hot spot we had to dig past where the flames and smoke were blowing right on the line, it was indeed a hot, hotline.

We dug line though the dark of the night, taking an occasional short break, and made it around the flank of the fire and to the top of the ridge by sunrise. We took a much needed ‘breakfast’ break once we reached the top and enjoyed the beautiful sunrise and the great feeling of accomplishment, knowing that the heat of the work was behind us. We then packed up our gear and continued digging line down the hill; we were exhausted by this point and the digging was slow, but we were able to finish. It felt great to hike back to our rigs and drive away from the IC (incident commander) deemed ‘contained’ fire. Our crew worked incredibly well together, using all of the strength we’d built up from PT to work though the entire night. We left the station around 9:00 am, having worked 24 long hours, slept through the day, and were at work the next morning bright and early at 6:00 am.

We spend the next few days patrolling the hills for smokes that were popping up after the days of lightening, and listened to the heavy radio traffic waiting for Crew 75 (or my squad Crew 75 Bravo) to be called to an incident. My squad drove to a lookout up an old road and waited to be called while we scanned the ridges for smokes. We were able to see three fires that had already been responded to from where we were, the most notable one being the Rainbow Bridge fire in Chelan which is still being contained (as of yesterday it was about 3,500 acres, and only 5% contained). Bravo was called to assist Crew 75 Alpha, as well as a crew of smoke jumpers from Redmond, OR with containing a lightening caused fire on Tronsen Ridge. We arrived to the fire (we drove up to the spot that the jumpers had jumped to, slightly humorous) and tied in with the smoke jumpers and the other squad and helped to improve the line while helicopters dropped buckets to cool the flames. Later an engine arrived and a hose lay was set up. We began mopping up with the water (which speeds the process up), and were released from the incident later in the afternoon, completing a 16 hour day (over time and hazard pay!).

The next day we (Crew 75 Bravo) went out patrolling smokes and were again called to assist containing and mopping up a small lightening fire. We brought lots of hose with us up to a ridge in Clark Canyon and tied in with two of the engines from our station. We set up a hose lay 1,450 feet out to where the fire was and helped wet it down and put out the heat. It was fun to work with the engine, get a break from digging line, and have the opportunity to use the hose. It was also awesome to see the tree that had been struck by the lightening and cause the whole (little) fire. I’m getting to see so many things each day here that are new and incredibly exciting.

After working consecutive days of long hours, our crew was beginning to show a bit of fatigue; coming out in the form of many laughs and naps in the rigs. The fires died down toward the end of our work week and we were able to work on getting our rigs and the engines refurbished and ready for the next big incident. We went up to a beautiful ridge yesterday and had evaluations with our bosses to see how our crew is doing as a whole, as well as how were each doing individually. It was great to hear how pleased my bosses are with our crew. I feel truly lucky to have such an incredible crew full of hard working, funny, athletic, and nice people. I’m enjoying my day off today, and will head back to work tomorrow morning. We’re awaiting the news that we’re going on a two week dispatch (where we’re sent out on an extended attack in another region near WA), it looks like it will happen any day now, pretty exciting!

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Lupine and Mistletoe

The Okanagon Wenatchee Forest is beautifully diverse. We get to drive around on Forest Service roads quite frequently, and as a result I get to enjoy the beautiful landscape (from the window of a pick up truck). I’m learning more and more about the different species and characteristics of the forest and thought I’d share a few of my favorites.

First, is the mistletoe. This plant never ceases to amaze me. According to my google search, Mistletoe “is the common name for a group of hemi-parasitic plants…that grow attached to and within the branches of a tree or shrub.” It looks like an area of the tree just has an enormous growth spurt in just that area, and is highly dense in thick, uneven branches, while the rest of the tree seems to lose all nutrients. It’s a fantastic site, and is definitely no rare occurrence. The plant eventually ensures a poor fate for the tree, killing it slowly; but not after it has taken over surrounding trees of the same species (apparently mistletoe is species specific). I don’t have any pictures to show of it right now, but I’ll be sure to take some next time I see a ‘good’ bundle.

Another one of my favorite species is the flower (actually it’s a legume) Lupine. It is a beautiful, tall purple flower that seems to have been in bloom just as I was getting started here. I would see it everywhere: along the roads, spreading across fields, and there were even areas of it on the walk down to the lake at my house. Once again google tells me that, “like most members of their family, lupins can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia via a rhizobium-root nodule symbiosis, fertilizing the soil for other plants, this adaption allows lupins to be tolerant of infertile soils and capable of pioneering change in barren and poor quality soils.” So cool! Ah, reading that description made me like the lupine even more, what an awesome plant. Fortunately, I do have a picture of the flowering lupine, but as for the rhizobium-root nodules, you’ll just have to use your imagination.

There you have it, a few of my favorite ‘plants’ to enjoy over here in the O-W Forest.

As for fires; my crew hasn’t had any recently, but the season is definitely picking up so we should see one soon.

Hopefully not until Sunday when I’m back in Leavenworth. Tomorrow I get to be in my friends John and Rachel’s wedding and I’m very excited. It’s going to be a beautiful day. I’ll put photos up as they roll in.

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Mission Creek

So, believe it or not we had our first fire! The day after I posted my last post about waiting and waiting for fire to come we were called at about 1:50 am and told to come into the station for a fire. We got to the station about 2:30 am and loaded up three trucks with 10 of the people from our 12 person crew. The fire was down valley on the steep hills by Mission Creek, apparently it was caused by someone lighting off some sort of fireworks? We rolled up to the IC (incident command) post and waited while our captain was briefed on all there was to the fire. I waited in the truck nervously, I had no idea what to expect on my first ever fire! So much excitement! Plus I was still trying to wake myself up after getting only 3 hours of sleep. The view from the truck was great, the dark of the night really enhanced the fire’s glow, we sat and watched as it crawled along the slope and torched trees.

When our captain was done with the briefing we went to the head edge of the fire and were placed on the Alpha Division of the fire. We started our morning around 4:30 am (after a briefing) doing structure protection for a man’s house just below one of the slopes that the fire was creeping down. We dug line around his house; 4 people on the saw teams (two teams of a sawer and a swamper) and 4 people digging line (2 people on pulaski, and 2 people (Lindsay and I) on the rhino as scrapers). We finished digging line around 8:30 am and migrated up the steep (STEEP) slope to start a direct attack hot line on the Alpha side of the fire. We dug with the 8 of us (our captain was acting as a look out as well as coordinating helicopter water drops while our assistant crew boss supervised our line dig as well as quite a few other things I’m sure) for a few hours putting in a cup trench line along the black of the fire; we got a bit done but it was slow moving with  our small crew. One fun thing throughout the whole morning was that I got to take the weather every hour and report over the radio the trends and readings for temperature, relative humidity, winds, fine dead fuel moisture, and probability of ignition over the radio; that was fun because I was able to use some of my nerdy science skills that I’ve been learning in school. It’s nice to actually be out in the woods after spending the entire school year in class learning about it all. Another awesome part of the morning while we were digging line was that there were two helicopters (rotors) dropping water buckets on the fire behind and in front of us. It was my first time seeing bucket drops and it was just awesome; the rotors were right next to us!

Later in the day we took a break to eat lunch that had been brought up to us and rest our tired bodies. After lunch it took a few minutes for me get back into the groove of digging line, but (if I remember correctly) at this point we tied in with Crew 74 (the other crew from our station) and then had over 20 people digging line, it was much easier and we were quite a bit more efficient. It was nice to work with the other crew too, we don’t see them/work with them too often. After a few hours, and a couple more breaks, we finally tied in our line with the line that was being dug toward us about 4 chains (1 chain= 66 feet) away. The last push of digging the line was tiring, but it felt great to finish it! We took a break at the end of the line and watched as a smoke plume grew and grew over a ridge in Entiat just in the distance. The Swakane fire had started there about 45 minutes earlier and it was already consuming quite a bit of the hill, the smoke plume was huge by the time we were heading down the ridge. The Swakane fire had burned about 2000 acres that first day, and by the next day it was up to 9000 acres (so I hear), and it’s still burning today; quite a few out of district resources (hotshots and hand crews) are working hard on it as I type. The winds are picking up here, but temperatures are dropping, so it will be interesting to see how long that fire lasts.

Overall, it seems like our efforts were a success, besides mop up crews, I don’t believe any crews had to go back in for fire suppression. Our line held and the fire was contained (I believe). We worked on the fire for about 8 hours straight, headed back to the station and were off work by 4:30 pm. I was exhausted at the end of the day, but felt great about having our first fire. Eleven and a half hours of sleep later, I was back at work for a relaxed day at the station for restocking the rigs and sharpening our tools. I have two days off now, then it’s back to work on Wednesday where we’ll hopefully get some more initial attacks!

It’s officially fire season!

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Triple Digits

It’s getting warm here fast, well actually it’s hot. It reached 94 degrees yesterday, and was supposed to be up to 100 degrees today (I think it made it to 97). Yesterday we went for a run in the late morning for PT and worked up quite a sweat. I think I kept sweating all day until I took a shower later that night; getting acclimated to this weather is strange, hopefully it doesn’t take too long to be ‘comfortable.’ Yesterday we drove around Wenatchee changing out forest service signs from “No Fireworks” to “No Campfires,” which means that summer is really here. The fuels are starting to reach the point where they’ll burn easy and flashy so hopefully we’ll see a fire soon. We joke quite a bit about us all going home at the end of the summer never having seen a fire but being amazing at running and hiking and sawing down trees. Today my crew (Crew 75) went for a short hike up Dirty Face mountain, then went to our project site and improved our saw skills. I feel much more comfortable with the saw now, it’s exciting to make face cuts and back cuts and have the tree fall where you want it to. Running the saws it exhausting though, and yet again I was drenched in sweat for a majority of the day. I’m drinking more water than I’ve ever drank, and sweat more than I’d even though possible. Plus I douse myself in mosquito repellent when we head out to the woods; I can’t decide if it’s worse to get bit by a thousand mosquitoes and avoid getting poisoned from Deet, or to get bit by a million mosquitoes and get West Nile…neither of which are that likely to happen, I guess I just have to decide how itchy I want to be.

Patrolling on the 4th of JulyTrying to look serious...

Regardless of what may seem like complaints here about sweating and mosquitoes and the heat, I absolutely love it here. I’m enjoying (almost) every minute of my time here. I have an awesome crew: 1 crew boss, 1 assistant crew boss, 2 squad bosses, and 8 crew members (with a couple more coming on in a few weeks). We all get along so well, have great positive attitudes, are in excellent shape, and work hard each day; I couldn’t be happier. It’s fun to work with a group of people who, in pretty much any other circumstances, I might not have gotten to meet. My crew makes me laugh every day, they teach me new things, and they encourage me to work my hardest each day.

The rest of our week (we work Wed-Sun), unless we have a fire, we’ll run and hike more each day, and probably work at our project site (where we’re thinning out prescribed burn areas) and practice digging line so we can get our muscles ready for the long days of digging that are sure to come. All this dry, windy weather this week is supposedly going to be followed by lightening next week, which means we might get sent out to lightning strike areas. It should be a good week indeed.

The view from the top of the ski hill hike at the repeater

Aside from work, life here in Leavenworth is good, yet simple and (in a good way) repetitive. I drive down the Wenatchee River Highway for about 10 minutes each day, then  turn onto Highway 2 and wind along that for 20 minutes until I’m at the station. It’s a beautiful drive, we curve around the bends in the rushing Wenatchee River, towering beside us are the grand ridges). The Tumwater canyon is just gorgeous; quite often I think of my Grandma Andy and imagine her drawing the beautiful hills and rivers in her sketch book, capturing the bright blue of the sky and the dark greens of the river. I think my grandparents would love it here (maybe not the heat though since they’re Alaskans…). Seeing all of the beauty as I drive to work and hike through the forests makes me wish that all of my friends and family could be here to see it too (I might get a little bit homesick at times)! Though I’m sure they’re all (you’re all) seeing equally great places.

Day off at the beach.

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It’s my birthday. I’m twenty!

It’s been quite a lovely, quiet day; I had a nice breakfast, watched a boring movie, took a long nap, and now I’m in Leavenworth sipping some coffee and eating a free birthday cookie. I’m pretty excited because I was just informed that “pretty much any store in town will give you free stuff on your birthday,” so my goal for the next hour is to see if this is really true and possibly snag some free ice cream or fudge, or maybe something more Bavarian, who knows.

I’ve gotten many lovely birthday wishes from my dear family and friends; I’m so thankful for all of the great people in my life. Twenty is going to be a great year, I’m sure of it. Just a few ‘known’ things coming up this year:  I’ll hopefully learn how to safely fight (suppress) fires this summer when the relative humidity and temperatures finally agree to let the hillsides burn. My dear friend Rachel is going to marry my other dear friend John this July. I might get to go to New Jersey to visit my lovely momma. And finally, I’m going to graduate with my Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Science this March. Who knows what else this year of my life will bring, all I know is that I’m overjoyed with all of the great experiences I’ve had in my life thus far, and I plan to keep on smiling and laughing as much as possible. Happy Birthday to me!

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Settling In

Today wrapped up the three weeks of training, I have my red card (meaning I can perform my duties as a forestry technician), I’ve been trained with a compass, and I’ve hiked my booty up enough hills to prove that I can hike to a fire. This week was full of information and things to do, and yet at the same time I felt lost with nothing to do at times; it’s all about finding a balance of knowing when to work as hard as you can, and when to sit and wait for direction…’hurry up and wait’ as they say.

The week started out with a great weekend of climbing and relaxing. I went up the Icicle Canyon twice to boulder at a few sweet spots (Mad Meadows, the Sword, and Forest Land). I also made a few great dinners, and delicious banana bread muffins; all of this free time at home with no internet is sure to improve my cooking/baking skills. Luckily we work out enough at work that I’m not too worried about eating too much.

Monday morning involved a lot of ‘hurry up and wait(ing)’ while our supervisors tried to improvise with a few changes they had thrown at them. We were supposed to dig line all day line but ended up getting going after eating lunch up on a ridge. We dug line for a few hours then our crew was called to assist in a medical evacuation up where the other hand crew was working. We scurried up the steep hillside and got our tools and packs organized and figured out a system for carrying the person with the injured knee out on a backboard. With rotations of tool carrying and backboard carrying, we were able to get the injured person (who was an assistant crew boss) out of the forest along some old muddy roads in a little over an hour. It was tough work but it felt so great all coming together and working as a cohesive unit to successfully get the injured person, as well as all of our gear from the day out of the forest. When we reached the main road, and set the backboard down, well sure enough it was a mock medivac and the person wasn’t injured at all, phew! It was great practice for us of what to do if/when something like that happens when we’re out working on a fire or a project. Plus, it was great PT (physical training); I was drenched in sweat by the end.

Midweek we finished up some more district orientation and had a barbecue at a beautiful ranch down the Chumstick Highway. There were a bunch of farm animals there (draft horses, pigs, puppies, chickens and roosters), and the sun was shining beautifully.  We also did some pretty hard PT, running one day, and hiking up Icicle Ridge another. Icicle Ridge is one of the common hikes we go on, and we do PT hikes we hike quite fast, back and forth on the switchbacks, and up the steep slopes. It’s always pretty exhausting, but I try to remember to focus on calming my breathing down, realizing that the exercise is great for me (I’ll be thankful for it when we’re actually hiking more slowly into a fire and I still have energy to put into digging line), as well as appreciate the fact that I’m not carrying a 40 lb. saw up the slope! About half of the crew guys will carry saws on each hike we go on, and I’m so impressed every time; those saws are heavy and the slopes are so steep!

Thursday we went for a run with our crew in the morning for PT. When we go anywhere, even on our runs, we travel in a line. This helps with passing information down the line and keeping us together as a unit (plus then we look quite legitimate haha). The run definitely pushed me (sprinting up the hills was rough), but it was awesome to finally finish PT without anyone having to call a gap in the line. We spent the afternoon driving around through the hills around the Lake Wenatchee area. My squad boss (the person who supervises a smaller unit of the crew (there are three of us in the squad, we all ride in the same truck together) knows the area really well and is great at pointing out different geographic and ecological features of the land. We talk about tree types, shrubs and invasive species, as well the various ridges we see in the distance (Dirty Face Mountain, Wedge Mountain, Icicle Canyon, SnowGrass Ridge, Nason Ridge, and more that I can’t quite remember yet). I definitely enjoy the rides along the old dirt roads and learning about the area, luckily people let me ask all questions about the area. It’s just beautiful over here and it makes it that much more special to actually have an idea of what I’m looking at.

Friday, today, we did our usual morning routine of checking the trucks (rig check: tires, underbody, oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, wiper fluid, lights, horn, and cleaning the windows) and going through station and crew briefings. After that we headed out as a crew to ‘Ski Hill,’ this old ski jump site that has just an incredible steep, unstable hike all the way up to a repeater (which transmits radio signal). We hiked all the way to the top where the repeater sits, and it was just glorious. Our crew has gotten so much stronger and it felt so great to all make it to the top; the hike was difficult, especially for the sawyers, but we all managed to get to the top together, sweating like crazy. After the shaky hike down we headed back to the station and had a great barbecue to ‘celebrate’ the end of training. It was nice to relax after the morning PT. After that we just took care of random paperwork and washed the rigs.

Now I’m sitting outside of the little Leavenworth library/city hall, hiding in the shade from the hot sun (though it might have cooled down a bit now) and mosquitoes, about to go wander to the center of the village for some live music and possibly some food. Tonight I’m hoping to get into a pub where my friend/crew member is playing a show, but I’m not too sure that’s going to happen, then I might head over to another guy from the crews house, who knows I might end up heading back to my house on the lake and crashing early tonight. I’m feeling a bit of a cold coming on, but hopefully I can get it out of me before it hits me too hard. Some friends from Bellingham (and Wenatchee) are going to be in town tomorrow so I’m going to try to get some climbing in with them while I wait for my phone to ring for my crew boss to call me in to work for our first fire?! We’re still waiting on the rain to go away, and for the fuels to dry up, but I’m sure that will come soon enough; plus we’re expecting the tourists to start some fires celebrating the fourth of July. We shall see.

No fires yet, but they might be coming soon. For all we know we could end up in the midwest next week for a two week assignment. We never know when we’ll be called in to work a fire; I’m learning to expect the unexpected and to never have quite a solid set schedule. Hopefully we’ll see some fire soon, but I’m enjoying my relaxing downtime while we wait.

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