What I Did Over My Summer Vacation!
Alisa Clark was on fire detail this past summer helping the parks out west with their terrible fires. Alisa worked the fire lines in the White River National Forest of Colorado and Utah and at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. She graciously allowed us to reprint some of her journal.
BLM land, Colorado and Utah, White River National Forest
Day 1: Twenty-four hours worth of travel on planes and buses to a high school outside of White River National Forest. I caught an hour of sleep in the school hallway with about 800 other firefighters.
Day 2: We were fed breakfast and coffee at the school, then we hopped on a bus to White River. The elevation was 11,600 feet! We set up a spike camp -- a very basic camp with no amenities. After setup, we hopped on another bus, drove eight miles toward the fire, then we started walking towards the fire, another seven miles. Our job was to put in a hand line around the fire, which meant more walking. When you put in a hand line, everyone has a tool, either a pick-axe or a shovel, and you line up and start digging down to mineral soil, so the fire's fuel is taken away. The soil is usually one down around six inches, but when you factor in the tough sagebrush and the 40-pound packs on our backs, the going is pretty slow. It took us four days to dig this hand line. In the meantime, our meals were served to us out of five-gallon buckets, and consisted of (no joke) green eggs and ham three times a day. If I never see a piece of ham again....
Day 5: We started working in the black. This means this is a place that had previously burned, but still has hot spots that might flare up. They need to be put out before they can spread. Our equipment was upgraded to pumps and fire engines, as well as the ever-present hand tools.
Day 8: We successfully contained the fire and drove to a lower elevation to a high school where we took cold showers; our first running water since arriving in Colorado! Several hundred pizzas were delivered to feed us all. Many people were hospitalized because of bloody, blistered feet. An entire Virginia crew was sent home due to altitude sickness. Hot temperatures during the day spent wearing the heavy yellow Nomax jackets meant to protect us from the fires and freezing temperatures at night combined to provide us all with colds. I determined that yellow is not my color.
Day 9: On to Utah! The bus ahead of us broke down, so we had to take its occupants on board. Trapped for eight hours with 20 people on a bus with no air conditioning! We eventually made it to yet another high school, where we had to sleep on the football field, but I was too tired to care. I used my boot as a pillow.
Day 10: The days passed in a fire-fighting blur. The highlights: good food; hot, daily showers; ice cream!
Day 13: We were told that we would have the day off in camp to relax, but then wound up being awakened at 5 am to be told that we were being flown in by helicopter to a new fire. It was nice not to have to walk in for a change. We were able to prevent the fire from spreading and we got to walk downhill the whole way out. I laughed to myself about how something so small could make me so happy.
Day 14: The school made us do yard work to earn our keep. We slept there that night, then got flights home! I was home for a week and then was sent to another fire, in Grand Teton National Park of Wyoming, with Bill Reese and Bill Piercy, two guys from my division at Richmond National Battlefield Park.