|Volume 15, Issue 11||
First-time firefighter aims to keep green from turning black
I was just a guy who loved the outdoors and needed a way to pay my college tuition. Surely I had underestimated this job as a wildland firefighter. As soon as we started piling out of the van, the smell of scorched sagebrush and ash hit me. The second thing I noticed was the heat. I could feel it radiating upon me like a second sun. We didn’t get right up next to the flames that day, but there were days where it felt like I was in an oven from the intensity of the flames.
We worked through the night and well into the next morning on rough terrain. The fire had burned the hillside, leaving only black ground and the roots of sagebrush. A line had been dug into the face of a huge, steep butte. This line was extremely important because it separated the unburned and the burned territory, or as we would call it the green from the black. We were posted there to make sure the fire didn’t spread into the green, which would put the small town of Bellevue, Idaho, a few miles to the west, in danger.
We had to work at night because fires can't be left unattended. When we were assigned night shift, we had two options for sleeping during the day. We could sleep in our tents, although it was often too hot for that, or there were often mobile sleepers. The mobile sleepers were really nice because they were air conditioned, dark, quiet and pretty comfy.
Night work was only interrupted by sounds of shovels, pulaskies, and the occasional chainsaw somewhere in the darkness. There were many hot spots in the ground left in the wake of the fire. Left unextinguished, they could easily flare up again or have sparks blow over into the green once the wind picked up. The work became quite meditative at a certain point.
At first, I was kind of nervous about my crew. I was glad to have Glenn as a crew boss, but a lot of the guys on my crew seemed very different from the people I am usually around. They all seemed experienced and used to this kind of work. However, after spending time with this group of guys I learned that our differences weren't what defined our relationships. I really connected with my crew because we all respected each other's work ethic and common goal to protect the forest.
Although this summer I worked harder than I ever have before, it was incredibly satisfying work. The fact that we are saving land, wildlife, towns and, potentially, lives is obviously a big reason for this feeling; however, it was a pleasant surprise to see the amount of appreciation people would show us. Driving into different towns we would often see signs people had written thanking us for our service. It motivated us and made our work feel valued. One night in camp, a family came to visit our crew to deliver some sweet bread they had been baking for us.
I’m extremely happy to have challenged myself to try something like this. Working in the great outdoors and doing hard work with your hands really strengthens you. It gave me confidence because I realized what I was actually able to accomplish with the right goals set in mind.
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