Fire Camp – Rosebud Complex – 2012

“People from all walks of life show up in one spot, they build a team, they build a city, they fight the fires, put it out, save the day, feel great about their public service, and they all disappear again.” Incident Commander Stan Benes.

Today we have an article written by W. Scott Olsen. It tells the story of his visit to the Rosebud Complex fire camp in August of last year, a fire that burned 171,000 acres south of Rosebud, Montana. We have previously mentioned other wildfire-related articles written by Mr. Olsen, who is a professor of English at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, but this is the first time we have published one in its entirety. He describes it as an insider’s look at the morning briefing at the Rosebud Fire Camp last year.

Chalky Fire
Chalky Fire, part of the Rosebud Complex, 2012. Photo by Mia Victoria Zuehlsdorff.

Fire Camp ~Rosebud Complex ~ 2012

I am tremendously early.

Southeastern Montana is on fire and I am heading toward the Rosebud Complex fire camp. I have directions, hastily written on a yellow legal pad, fluttering in the open window gusts of my Jeep, but in truth I have no idea how far I need to go. All I know is that the morning briefing happens first. No set time. Just first.

Yesterday, on the phone with the public information liaison, I was told I needed boots if I was going into the black, into the burned and burning. At least eight inches tall. Lug soles. They had the fire resistant green pants and yellow shirts for me there, as well as a hardhat and gloves. But I needed my own boots, and a backpack to carry water. No problem, I said. The Jeep headed west.

I found a hotel room in Miles City but didn’t sleep very well. Two hours from here to the fire? I had no clue. State highways, rural routes, back roads and gravel are difficult to time.

I left at 4:00 a.m.

I am tremendously early, the world still dark, so I pull over at a historical marker. The Grave of the Unknown Man. “In 1886,” the marker reads, “ranchers buried near here what many believe to be the remains of Private Nathan Short…Short was believed to be carrying a message from General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.”

On a hill behind me, a lone horse stands in silhouette at a fence line, watching me. Behind him, the daybreak is an indigo highlight on the horizon.

Perhaps I was driving fast.

&&&

Imagine the way it must begin. Lightning and then fire. Thick full smoke in the air. The local fire engine crew arrives. They are probably volunteers. They spray the water their engine holds and dig whatever fire break they can. But the wind comes up and the fire grows fast. Grass fire can race over three acres in a minute and there is no way the one crew can get ahead of it. Embers and firebrands are lifted by the wind and start new brush when they fall. The local crew calls for help. There are more engines, more crews. And behind them comes the supply trucks, the water and food, the equipment—shovels and Pulaskis and radios—and the need to keep it all working, to keep it all organized, to keep it all sane. Way out in the open country there is suddenly a small, temporary, town. It wasn’t here yesterday. It might not be here tomorrow.

The Fire Camp for the Rosebud Complex is set up in a field. There are tents for the fire fighters—all of them from the garages and basements and truck-beds of the men and women living inside. There are yurts for office space, communications and medical attention. There are semi-truck trailers, one of them a mobile food service kitchen with a serving window on the side and a fold-down walkway for serving, and there are RV trailers turned into offices, parked in a semi-circle to make a central gathering space. Large maps, duct-taped to the sides of the trailers, all of them some version of a daily briefing map, are color coded for different sections of the fire work just south of the camp, sections labeled with division names: Whisky, Tango, Oscar, Lima. As the fire fighters arrive, they look at the maps. Some of them wince.

When I pulled up, I asked a man at the gate where the morning briefing would be held. He didn’t ask why I was there. He simply pointed me to the RV circle. A line of work lights, bare bulbs surrounded by protective cages, hangs between temporary poles. An American flag rests against its own pole. At the moment there is no breeze.

This is the place where the day begins. Men and women, some of them already or still dressed in fireproof nomex, some of them in cargo pants and t-shirts, begin to gather for the morning briefing. There are baseball caps and at least one cowboy hat. The air is cool. Everyone holds coffee. Some people hold two cups.

There is no alarm, no wake-up bell. This is simply the meeting that cannot be missed. No one takes attendance. People who were on the fire line yesterday, who ate and slept here the night before, may be on their way to some other fire today. People who were in some other state yesterday may be lining up for coffee here this morning. But this is where the work makes sense, the place where the hours spent putting your hands into the duff feeling for heat, the cutting of a stump that still smolders, the cutting limbs off trees as high as you can reach, the bulldozer cutting a line to remove the fuel, the air drops of red fire retardant slurry, are given a proper context. There is no ceremony. Eloquence is sometimes missing. This is not a performance. There are no television cameras or reporters. In a short while these people will be on a fire line. This is information. This is history and future.

&&&

Briefing at the Rosebud Complex, 2012
Briefing at the Rosebud Complex, 2012. Photo by Scott Olsen.

In front of an RV marked “Fire Information,” a man picks up a microphone attached to a PA system and begins. The maps are on a wall behind him. People have left and people have arrived. Most everyone, though, has been working this fire for days. The maps show ground they have walked.

“I know you folks in the back are younger than I am, but, please move up so you can see. I just got bad eyes. Good morning, my name is Ron Hecker. I’m the Plans Chief for Stan Benes’s Eastern Montana team, so with that we’ll get started and we’ll have Operations give us a rundown of what happened out there yesterday.”

Ron hands the microphone to another man and the reports begin. Every day is a fresh start. Every briefing is a way to give the fire world shape. No one takes notes. But among the listeners I have a feeling every word is memorized.

“Good morning. I’m Phil Gill one of the Ops chiefs on the team. Pretty quickly I have some of these northern fires—Juniper, Sweeney, Beaver, Big John—all of them were beginning rehab or assessing to begin rehab. No significant activity and smokes are diminishing. They’re starting to look pretty good, that’s all with these fires up here.”

He points at a map taped to the trailer behind him.

“Sand Creek’s not quite that far along but it is also looking real good. We’re finding some heat on the line. This area of the fire’s in the timber a little bit so that’s probably going to take some more patrolling and digging for heat but they’re looking pretty good. No movement in the fire and it’s beginning to cool down so we’ll go to our larger fire.”

He pauses.

“Even larger, larger fire,” he says.

Everyone laughs.

“Ok, we’ll start up here on Sierra, north end of the fire. Good day, a lot of Sierra bumps, grass without timber in it and that stuff has been going out pretty well, with a little help. We’re all tucked into the lines. We did have an extra division in here, Quebec, yesterday. Which will be explained what we’re doing with that today. Round the corner into Tango, this is a real steep, mountainous area. Tango had a good day, they had more heat on the line certainly than Sierra. We put a lot of resources in there, this end of the fire yesterday, and had pretty good day. No slop-overs, no perimeter growth, and we’re working those spots. A little more heat in there but it’s coming right along.

He points to the map and moves the story through the divisions. “A lot more work to do in here maybe than some other parts of the fire, a lot of heat in here, a lot of heat in here in Whiskey and X-Ray,” he says. “Papa down here at the bottom was pretty cool all day, not showing a lot of heat and we’re starting to move a few resources off of that. In here into Oscar where we kind of spent a lot of air resources and effort yesterday because the last two days before yesterday we kept getting slop-overs and growth in this direction. Yesterday they spent all day finding a way to go around the last slop over and get it tied in which they did with dozer line.”

Briefing at the Rosebud Complex, 2012
Briefing at the Rosebud Complex, 2012. Photo by Scott Olsen.

I stand near the maps and try to imagine the world he describes. It’s easy, I think, for a fire to become meaningless. The success or failure of the effort can end with your own line of sight, I think. The briefing puts every small bit into the larger hope.

Phil hands the microphone back to Ron, who calls on the next department to report.

“Good morning, I’m Patrick Gilicrist, the incident meteorologist. We have another hot, dry one in store for you today, with maximum temperatures reaching up to about 95 on the ridge tops and 98 in the valleys. Minimum humidity is going to dip down to 10 to 15 percent and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see maybe a single digit RH out there through the day. Winds will be quite a bit lighter than we saw yesterday. North at 5 to 10 out there right now, becoming northeast around 900 hours and will be switching around eventually to the east by the afternoon. Could occasionally see a wind gust of 18 mph during the afternoon as we get a little bit better mixing and some of the more sheltered valleys will just see upslope of four to eight miles per hour winds during the day. Tonight we start to pick up an outside chance for a thunderstorm. Again active thermal belts on the ridges with humidity recoveries only in the poor to moderate range. Overnight we will see a little bit of a local effect that starts to take place overnight tonight, especially towards the end of your shift, because these southeast winds that are starting to pick up you know with 10-15 with a gust of 20 and maybe even bumping 25 mile per hour wind gusts through the evening and then overnight, so we get to see what’s called “low-level jet” that develops in this area. And we’re going to see that tonight, push a little more wind especially on those thermal belts. LAL of two tonight, with a chance of wetting rain of less than ten percent. Haines Index of 5. Looking out into tomorrow’s period you could see a few afternoon cumulous build-ups. We have some potential for thunderstorms a little bit later in the evening. Again, another hot one, the temperature’s up a tick, RH is down a little bit. Southeast winds 10-15 gusts 20. So if you have any questions please see me after the briefing.”

Any questions, I think? Patrick is describing is great deal more than weather. Fire moves with wind, grows with heat and lack of humidity. Patrick is describing a day that could very well explode.

The next briefer takes the microphone.

“Good morning, I’m Bruce, here’s our fire behavior for the team. Big fire, and we’ve been here a while, and really no surprises out there. Kinda what you see is what you get. But there’s a few things I need you to pay attention to, and be looking for behind ya. You’re strung out pretty thin. So be real diligent when you’re doing mop-up and patrol that you’re not doing all windshield patrol. Get out, get the gloves off, get the fingers down in there, and check this stuff out. These fuels are very, very dry. And when they get this dry they don’t always smoke when they’re holding fire. So if you see something that you think might be a pocket of fuel that’ll hold fire, go check it out. You’re seeing a lot of needle drop if you’re driving around out there. That stuff’s coming off the trees and laying down. It doesn’t take much for that to catch a spark, or a hot smoke, or log, or stump hole or something, and start walking out of there, walking right on out across your line, across something that’s been cold for days. Suddenly you got fire out there. So pay attention to that and be looking for it. If indeed you get out on IA, don’t be surprised by the rates of spread that you see out there. You hear of an IA run for about 3-4 hours and it’s a thousand acres. Yeah. That’s going to happen. That thing could be 100, 200 acres in a very short period of time. So be looking for that. Even though the winds aren’t burning us like they were yesterday, it doesn’t take a lot of wind. Ten mile an hour wind. You’re at 95 degrees and 10 percent RH. It wants to go. So just, watch for that. There’s some good numbers in the IAP, that kinda give you a picture of what you’d be looking for, and slow and steady wins the race out there. So don’t be so quick to leave. Pay attention to what you got and just keep an eye over your shoulder, and keep at it.”

What do you think, I wonder, when every bit of the world you hike is wanting to burst into flame? What do you think when you know the earth is lethal?

Bruce holds out the microphone toward several others. The man next in line takes it up.

“Good morning everybody, Ron Type, Air Operations Branch Director. We still have the same complement of rotor power that we’ve had—the one light, the three mediums and the two heavies out there. We did send a couple of them off to do the IA assist and recover those assets back to Coalstrip last night. Just want to reiterate, make sure if you’re working with those air craft, you got to dedicate somebody there just to communicate with that aircraft, so they’re not up there hovering around in a bad flight profile waiting for you to figure out what you want to do with them. So other than that, we do have that paramedic still stationed down in Coalstrip at the heli-base. If there’s that need, give us a shout and we’ll see what we can do. And for the card players…”

A number of people start laughing—clearly a story from last night or the night before.

“…remember, a pair of 44s beats a pair of aces.”

The briefing changes. The news of what may come is replaced by the needs of here and now.

“Good morning I’m Charles Toss, Operations Section Chief, trainee.” Another man at the microphone. “Again on Juniper, Sweeney, Beaver, Sandcreek, Big John, divisions Q, S, and R, they’ll all be working for Steve Christman on the ground, and then Tango, Whiskey, and X-Ray will be working for Gary Kerpack on the ground, and Papa and Oscar also for Steve Christman. We’ve had some changes this morning.”

He turns to one of the large maps taped to the side of an RV trailer, and points with a long stick.

“There will be no more Quebec, that’ll all move into Sierra again. And Big John, I’m going to have Lima do some patrol on that. But we’ll talk about that as we go around but those are the major changes. Beaver Creek fire has a little more work to do on some rehab and still patrol that today. Juniper, they’re still on patrol and starting to work on some rehab. As well as Sweeney, they’re on patrol, and we’ll start to assess rehab needs if we get the equipment in there. We’ll get it up there—we’ll get the dozer with the six way blade today hopefully and we’ll start looking at that. It sounds like on Sandcreek, division Lima, they’re still holding some portion of this down here and working to get their mop up standards in and they are assessing the rehab as well. As well as on division I, right up through here…”

His pointer sweeps across the map.

“…I believe is where they will be trying to meet the mop up standards and assessing rehab as well. Big John, they got the secondary lines rehabed yesterday and we’re going to, like we said, move that over in Lima and hopefully we can get that patrolled and when that gets going we can then try to figure out a little bit later here when we can start to do the internal lines. Sierra and Quebec combined, they’re going to be a hold and mop up mode on that. Division Romeo is also in a hold and mop up mode. Quebec, they will work to reinforce and hold this burnout the night did and continue to hold that. Like we said, we don’t want to see any movement to the north on that or to the south down here. If we can hold that today we’ll be looking real well there. Division Papa, they worked with division X-Ray yesterday, extended their break, so their hold from here down and mop up but they do have some work extended up into here somewhere we’ll get that on the map, we got that late last night. But that’ll give them more work today to try and relieve some of the length of X-Ray’s division. Whiskey is moving forward and they’re looking good so they’re going to continue advancing north and make hay up there with what they have. Tango has concentration on a slop they had a couple days ago and they’re putting a lot of equipment in there and also we’re doing real well yesterday and we’ll continue to build line and hold what we have out there. Any resources that is assigned to Tango, Whiskey, and X-Ray, up here with me and we’ll get you briefed and get you out to them this morning. Any unassigned resources also up front here with me today please.”

Strategy and tactics, I think. The daily assignments. The long term goal.

There are reports from people in charge of finance, human resources, food service, fire information. Every office gets a chance to report. No one quietly moves toward the edges, perhaps to sneak away for a moment before heading out. This is the stuff you have to hear. Every report, I think, is a note from the home office. Every report a picture of why you are here.

Ron calls the Liaison Officer to the microphone. Liaison between what, I wonder? A woman walks up and takes the microphone:

“Good morning. We had a landowner/leasee meeting last night down at the corrals over on Route 39. Gee, it’s hard to talk with your hands when you’ve got a coffee cup in the way. Anyway, it was a successful meeting. I just want to reiterate what my mother taught me and my father taught me and my family taught me and I’m guessing your family taught you too. When you go to somebody else’s place, you use your best manners and you use your best talk and you use your best communication that you can. So, just remember, these folks have had a long hard row to hoe. They’ve put a lot of sweat and equity into this land. Some of the land is theirs and some of the land is other folks but they’re leasing it. Hay is at a premium. We keep saying hay is worth the price of gold and we all know what the price of gold is right now. So please, use your manners. Open a gate, close a gate. Talk to folks. Divisions, if you get a chance to talk to those folks then talk to them, it’s their private land and we are guests on that land. You guys are putting sweat equity into it too, so as a group, us and the landowners, it can all work out and it can be a good thing. So, please, use your manners.”

She hands the microphone to the man next to her.

“Morning. A couple of things. Dan always wants us to be brief and normally I’m a little too brief, but today I got a couple things to tell you that we learned last night at the landowner meeting. One of them was kind of an interesting deal. I went home and it was about eleven o’clock and I’m tired. My wife rolls over in bed and says, you know, the water heater went out and I lost one of the dogs. So, all of a sudden, there’s a whole ‘nother world out there that we forget about because we’re fighting fire and that’s our focus. And then in the landowner meeting, we ended up with several folks that were talking to me after the meeting. One of them is a big rancher in this area, very influential, and I know him. He pulled out a little pocket pamphlet and I said, “How’s the fire, how’s it treating you?” And he flips over to a certain page and he shows it to me and he lost 208 cows in this fire. And then the next guy to him says, “Well I lost 27 miles of fence.” And the guy next to him says, “I wish I only lost 27 miles of fence.” So the moral of the story is, these guys are under extreme stress. And if you don’t think they’re going to pop off on you and lose their temper, you need to think about that because that’s going to happen if you’re not courteous and if we don’t have permission to be on their land. And that’s the moral of the story and my little talk this morning: be very cognizant of the fact that these guys are suffering. And that’s going to be a long term deal for them. So be polite, talk to them, make a special effort to communicate with them. And that’ll help our relationships with the landowners. Thanks.”

&&&

The briefing is nearly over, but one office remains. Stan Benes is the Incident Commander. The Boss. Older than most people in camp, easy going and soft spoken, he has a trim grey beard and glasses. His blue shirt, jacket and cap all carry the logo for the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team, flames surrounding an evergreen tree. He takes the microphone.

Stan Benes
Incident Commander Stan Benes at a briefing during the Rosebud Complex in 2012. Photo by Scott Olsen.

“Good morning. For anyone that’s new, I am Stan Benes. I am the incident commander for this northern Rockies, Eastern Montana team. I’ll try to be brief this morning but there are two reports I wanted to share with everyone that we should all feel pretty darn good about. One is that the fires in this complex are essentially in the same spot they were for the last two days. The way these fields are, the fires are racing out of these fields, we should feel pretty good about that. We did have some work on the west end and we did have a pretty good slop over on the east end. I thought for this team, some of the fires we’ve been on, when we’re talking about a little slop-over of a thousand acres on the east end, I thought was pretty interesting.”

A low wave of been-there laughter rolls through the gathering.

“But we kept it, they’re still in the same place so that is absolutely outstanding work from that operations team, we appreciate that. The second report we should all be feeling pretty good about is the safety record. We’ve got almost nine hundred people. All those moving parts, six fires up and down the roads and all that’s going on. So we salute the safety team. We’ve got a pretty good team for safety, not just an officer or two, but a team and we certainly salute them and we salute the safety attitude, if you will, of the whole group.”

“Next thing I wanted to share,” he says, “and you just heard about it from Dwayne was the rancher meeting last night. There was certainly some frustration and some tears. But there was mostly appreciation for everyone that’s been involved in that fire, from the volunteers to the super star cat skinner as I call him, Rod Lee. Pretty amazing. To the team and everyone involved, that was a very interesting meeting and Dwayne told us pretty clearly what all the frustrations are. There were a couple divisions that were given some gold stars by those ranchers so I wanted to share that. Wally McCray and Roger Sprauge, they said they had great help on Sandcreek from Joe Casey and Isaac. They applauded their effort to work with them, the job they did on Burnap, and certainly their awareness about the importance of the grass and their respect for the private land. So Joe and Isaac, you represent us well. The other one was the Rosebud County Sheriff, Randy. He wanted the division supervisor Beechum and the McKenzie River crew and the Mount Hood crews to know that they were—they were just awesome, is what he said. On that division Sierra, that’s the other night, I think they put in a hell of a shift. I think it was about an eighteen hour shift. So gold stars there, you need to know that people out there really appreciate that.”

“Final thing I wanted to mention,” he continues, “is I’ve got quite a few trainees on this fire and I myself and this team want those trainee assignments to be very productive assignments. So if it’s not a good productive assignment for you, give an honest assessment to your supervisor and if that’s not working, get to me or JT. We want you to have a good assignment. And then, as we always close every briefing on every fire, success is bringing everyone home safely tonight. And no, I’m not telling anymore football jokes. I’m still hearing from the Minnesota fans.”

Another wave of laughter.

Stan just smiles at the crowd and sets the microphone down. The morning briefing is over. The men and women around him move toward the RVs and yurts, many of them move toward the food truck, still others get in pickup trucks and depart. Work is already up and running in the tents for weather, communications and equipment. This is the central camp. There are two other remote camps, spike camps, all working as the same team.

Stan and I find a bench outside the Fire Information trailer. The morning is still young and the air is still cool, the pinks and indigos of the cloudless predawn sky still linger on the western horizon. Here in the valley, the beginning of this summer day is perfect to every horizon. It’s full on western beauty. Brown rolling hills. A small county road. Sagebrush and tallgrass. But over every ridge, just beyond what we can see, the land is burning. There are stories that this season is set up badly. Too much dry. Too much heat. We’ve already had Waldo Canyon. No one knows what’s nest.

“The old dogs, as they’re called—the people who got twenty, thirty years of fire experience—they have not seen fire behavior like this,” Stan says.

He pauses and takes a sip of his coffee, watches some departing trucks.

“Well, generally,” he continues, “people will say I’ve never seen this in my career. I’m a district manager for the BLM in Lewistown Montana, and the fires we’ve seen lately are going from zero to a hundred acres, even when we’re right there ready to respond. And some of the hundred acres are moving to a thousand acres. It’s just amazing fire behavior. It’s like all the fuels are available. Everything’s burned. A little start last night that we assisted with up by Miles City, we understand it went from zero to about 800 acres. And we’ve got people sitting in the ready. I mean generally we don’t have that. Still couldn’t get it. I mean we’ve got six helicopters. We’ve got 74 engines. We’ve got more resources. It’s amazing. It’s just incredible.”

“Last year was a major, well—we had the floods on the river,” he says. “Down at one of our campgrounds, just where we border the Charles M. Russell wildlife refuge, we were there in, and I think it was June, and the river level was 6,000 cubic feet per second. The previous spring about that time it was 74, which is incredible. This year we’ve got the drought. Last year we had all the rain give us a lot of this ignition fuel, if you will.”

“New growth last year,” I say.

“Now it’s all dry. And so, this year there was a wave of, a thundershower went through and dropped several lightning bolts, if you will. Each one started a fire. We had a situation north of Lewistown, Montana, where we had fourteen strikes that were recognized on a map. Thirteen of them started fires. So it’s just absolutely amazing. I’m an old fire behavior analyst too. And to see this kind of fire behavior is absolutely phenomenal. And it’s only August 6th. Or 8th or whatever.”

“Still early in the season,” I say.

“I remember looking at one of our fire, our CTR we call it, Crew Time Report, from a couple years ago. And we went to the Mac Lake fire. I don’t know if we went or we came back October 8th. So is that telling me we may have two more months of this? Potential of these large fires?

Stan pauses and looks out past the trailers and personnel into the low hills bordering the camp.

“Is your best hope just to break even until snow?” I ask. “Because you can’t remove the fuel. You can’t go out there and do anything other than respond.”

“The best thing that we can do is just hope to be able to respond to these fires and keep them at hundreds of acres instead of thousands and tens of thousands of acres. There’s some rugged country out there, where we got very steep ground, and where we can’t get in there with bulldozers. We can’t get in there with skidgens or—so it has to be good old-fashioned kind of stuff. And then if you’re familiar with fire you know about Type 1 crews, Hot Shot crews, so that’s where we put them. We’ve got a lot of open grass lands, sage brush. I mentioned this morning about the superstar cat-skinner. Out in this country, Eastern Montana, unless we’ve got some restrictions against it with wilderness study areas or what have you, they’ve been very successful using bulldozers. But even with those we can’t keep up with some of these fires.”

“Fire behavior,” I say, “unlike any you’ve seen before, mostly just because of the old perfect storm analogy? The fuels, the temperature, everything’s coming together in the same year?”

“Like I used to say as a fire behavior analyst, when you’ve got over 90 degrees temperature, under 20 degrees humidity, and you throw in any kind of wind upwards of 15 or 20 miles an hour, talk about the perfect storm. Then you throw in the receptive fuels, and all the fuels, all the grasses, even some of what is usually the green vegetation in the draws is receptive, so perfect storm probably is a good analogy.”

A man walks up to confirm some information, then heads off again.

“Is there one that comes to mind first?” I ask. “When you thought, this might be the day I need my shelter? Or this is the day I’m going to go become a librarian?”

He pauses and considers.

“Oh,” he says. “I’ve been in several places a couple times in my career where we thought we were prepared but not necessarily. And I remember coming pretty close. Any of the firefighters that have experienced it know what I mean. I happened to get over the hill in time, but it sounds like, if you’ve been around large aircrafts like a B26 or something, just an absolute roar headed your way and you fear for your life. Like I say, the awesome power of Mother Nature is pretty evident out there. And I’ve been there several times and I was in a couple, what we call significant emotional events in a helicopter with a very respected Vietnam pilot. And he says, damn it I don’t think we’re going to make it. And your life flashes before you. But we got some transitional lift off a rock wall and we did get out. Gentleman with me says “I survived that I’m going to live forever.” Well, actually he died in a motorcycle wreck about six months later, which was a sad story.”

“The thing about all this fire business,” he says, “is the dedication of these people. I’ve been at this for 25 years and this team is a great team. And we’ve improved a lot from the old tents to these FEMA trailers, and to this day I’m still amazed. We represent seven or eight organizations, we switch all the time, from eight different states. We show up and we build a little city. We’ve got the bank over there, that’s finances, we’ve got stores here, logistics, information, the leadership, and it’s just amazing how this can come together. We bring these five trailers together, plug them in with a generator. We’ve got twenty-eight computers, people know what to do. It’s kind of like, there was an old movie, I think it was called The Over the Hill Gang, lots of old timers. It used to be they were in, oh, the Texas Rangers or something, and there was the code word. Somebody said “Brazos.” Then everybody showed up and knew what they were going to do. And so, we get the call, and we show up on a hillside in Montana or Idaho. We’ve been to Florida, Alaska. People from all walks of life show up in one spot, they build a team, they build a city, they fight the fires, put it out, save the day, feel great about their public service, and they all disappear again.”

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

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