Thursday, August 18, 2011

On Tuesday afternoon, I got the call/request to go "on assignment" to a prescribed burn at Little River Canyon National Preserve. I wouldn't find out for sure that I was going until 8AM the next morning when the forecast showed the burning conditions. My first burn- I was excited! I had fo gather my gear and get ready to be on a crew, just in case.

My phone rang at 8:15, I was going. Report time was noon.

Wildland firefighters have to wear a lot of gear and carry a fair amount, too. I felt like I was getting ready for a deepsea-dive. It could have just been the boots:

The prescribed burn, as it turns out, was small. I was a part of a crew of seven people. As far as I am concerned, it was an excellent introductory experience. We were to throw fire down through wooded areasin order to help remove the plants that blocked light for the bogs in the area.

Did she say "throw fire"??? But Smokey says!!!

Yep. We made the wooded area burn, using these:

Several rare plants live in these bogs and the fire would open up the wooded areas for the plants to thrive. We were to walk through the woods with these torches and set fire as much as we could (throwing fuel in a figure "8" shape, in order to cover as much ground). Walking through a jungle-like forested area with fire is an as intense experience as it sounds. Fire is hot! Smoke makes it hard to see and tears fall! Without keeping your wits about you, I can see panic overtake a person very quickly. And this was just a small, contained burn...

After we burned the second targeted plot, my supervisor asked me to walk the perimeter to check for spot fires. You know how the very best campfire for toasting marshmallows happens right when the flames go out? The embers radiate a heat that almost feels hotter than flames? That's what I had to walk around, holding my glove to one side of my face to try to protect from the heat.

When walking through the burning woodlands, it gets hot. Countless bottles of water and sports drinks did not seem to provide enough hydration to quench that kind of thirst. I thought of pools and oceans and lakes, any body of water I could immerse myself in as a mental break from the heat. Imagining wasn't so hard, as I had soaked through all layers of clothing with my sweat. Whew.

My two and a half hour ride home felt nice. I now have new blisters on my feet, scratches and welts that cover the whole front of my body (I will not be shaving my legs for at least a week until these heal), soreness in my shoulders, biceps, and back, and a new level of respect for wildland firefighting.

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