The Trinity Alps pack string on the River Complex of fires in California

In this video, packer Erik Cordtzon of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California talks about using the Trinity Alps pack string of mules and horses, one of three pack strings on the forest, to haul cargo in and out of the River Complex of fires.

Trinity Alps pack string
The Trinity Alps pack string on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. USFS photo.

We appreciate seeing videos like this of firefighters simply talking about their job. It can give the public a better understanding of what they do and what they go through on a daily basis. It’s very easy to do this. One of the keys, however, is to have good audio. An external microphone, as used in this video, is essential — they are even available for smart phones.

If the video is uploaded to YouTube they can be seen by a much, much wider audience than if they are hidden on Drive. And Facebook videos can’t be easily embedded onto other sites.

USFS pack mule meets Budweiser Clydesdales

USFS pack mules Budweiser Clydesdales

While the U.S. Forest Service wildfire-working pack mules were in Pasadena for the Rose Parade on New Years Day they made some new friends at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center — the Budweiser Clydesdales.

USFS pack mules Budweiser Clydesdales

A year ago we had an article about how the USFS overwinters 214 horses and mules at a facility 20 miles northwest of Missoula, MT.

If you like the Clydesdales, HERE and HERE are two commercials featuring them (and a puppy) that appeared in the 2015 Super Bowl.

The photos above were supplied by the USFS.

Below is a photo from our archives:

The Carson Hot Shots being resupplied by a mule team
The Carson Hot Shots being resupplied by pack animals on the Happy Camp Fire Complex in northern California, September, 2014. At one time 29 mules and 8 horses were assigned to the fire. USFS photo by Mike McFadin.

Forest Service represented in the Rose Parade

The U.S. Forest Service had quite a few representatives in the Rose Parade in Pasadena on New Years Day.

USFS firefighters mules

Their entry was a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the historic role of packers in supporting wildland firefighters and other backcountry operations, and appreciation of the outstanding contributions made by national forest volunteers.

The all-mule equestrian entry included an entourage of Forest Service Rangers in period uniforms anchored by three mule pack strings. The mule pack strings were guided by California-based U.S. Forest Service packers Michael Morse, Lee Roeser and Ken Graves, who have an average of 37 years of experience each in the saddle.

Forest Service Rose Parade
USFS firefighters hiked the five-mile parade route.
Forest Service Rose Parade
Smokey Bear, USFS Chief Thomas Tidwell, and Regional Forester Randy Moore were photographed riding on a wagon in the parade.
Shawna Lagarza Tom Harbour
Shawna Legarza, the Director of Fire and Aviation for the U.S. Forest Service’s California Region, and Tom Harbour, the Director of Fire and Aviation for the Forest Service, at the Rose Parade, January 1, 2015.

This is something you don’t see every day — wildland fire personnel dressed up in their super-formal uniforms. (These folks are very high ranking of course, but seeing ANY non-headquarters-based U.S. Forest Service employee in a uniform is unusual.) I didn’t know the USFS had the Smokey Bear type hats except for the honor guards you see at funerals. The roses on the hats are a nice touch.

I did not see the parade, but there is a report that during the live broadcast the announcers had a debate about Smokey’s name — “Smokey Bear”, or “Smokey THE Bear”. Here’s the deal. A song written in 1952 celebrated “Smokey the Bear” and stirred a debate that lasted several decades. To maintain the proper rhythm in the song, the writers added “the” to the name, etching “Smokey the Bear” into the public psyche. But his name always was, and still is, Smokey Bear. Unfortunately the Forest Service fueled the confusion by publishing and distributing the words and music to the song in their fire prevention efforts.

All photos are provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

Happy Camp Fire Complex closing in on “megafire” status

The Carson Hot Shots being resupplied by a mule team
The Carson Hot Shots being resupplied by pack animals on the Happy Camp Fire Complex. USFS photo by Mike McFadin.

The Happy Camp Complex of Fires west of Yreka, California is approaching what we have defined as “megafire” status — 100,000 acres of burned forest. As of Thursday night it has blackened 82,956 acres, a number that increases by 4,000 to 12,000 acres daily.

At a cost to date of $47.4 million, almost 3,000 people are assigned to the fire, along with 87 hand crews, 14 helicopters, 127 engines, 23 dozers, 43 water tenders, 29 mules, and 8 horses.

Some areas are still under an evacuation order.

3-D Map of Happy Camp Fire
3-D map of the Happy Camp Complex Fire, looking west at 11 p.m. PDT, Sept 4, 2014.

Firefighters are hoping to keep the fire south of the Klamath River and Highway 96 between the communities of Happy Camp and Horse Creek, a goal they have mostly met, however there have been two large spot fires across the highway and the river that have been stopped. One of them was about 0.6 mile long and the other was about a tenth of a mile across.

On Thursday the fire was very active on the east side where it is burning downhill toward Scott River Road in the vicinity of Scott Bar (see the map of the fire above).

The area will remain under a Red Flag Warning through 11 p.m. Saturday due to a combination of strong winds and low relative humidity.

Ninemile Remount Depot

Who knew the U.S. Forest Service has a Remount Depot? The Missoulian has an interesting article about how the agency overwinters 214 horses and mules at a facility 20 miles northwest of Missoula, MT. The mules are used to resupply fire lookout towers, bring supplies to firefighters working on remote lightning-caused fires, and assist with trail maintenance.

Here is the first part of the article:

NINEMILE – As the sun was rising on a cold, quiet morning, 214 sets of ears tipped forward in the same direction, listening with anticipation as a hay truck started.

Tendrils of steam drifted from the many nostrils in the giant group of mostly mules as they stood statue-still, concentrating on the sound.

When it was obvious the truck was headed their way, hooves set to motion in an eager trot, kicking up freshly fallen snow as the long-eared herd moved to meet its breakfast at the pasture gate.

“Every year they come together here from across the Northern Region to winter,” explained Laura Johnson, the resources assistant with the Ninemile Remount Depot and Historic Ranger Station.

Smiling at the sight of the gentle giants, Johnson said, “They are all really friendly and get along well with each other…


Thanks go out to Dick