Three of us drive to the big city, eco-conscious in a Forest Service hybrid. We are headed for that winter ritual, off-season fire training. Despite a stop for energy drinks and Sour Patch Kids, it's hard to be enthusiastic. There's snow on the ground. Two days of powerpoint slides loom in the distance.
However, we make the best of it. Pilots and other firefighters I haven't seen in months give me hugs. There's free beer at the brewery. I get to go out to dinner on Valentine's Day with three nice guys. Most importantly, taking this class gets us our annual aerial ignition refresher. Now we can disperse and for yet another year, legally burn stuff from the air.
Back home, we drag out the PSD machine and bench test it, making sure that the plastic spheres filled with potassium permanganate will ignite when injected with antifreeze. We time it: twenty or thirty seconds till ignition; perfect. I order a pallet of Flash 21, the gelling agent for the helitorch fuel. Burn bosses send me their plans for review. Then we wait: wait for the temperature to rise, for that brief window between snowmelt and greenup when it all becomes possible. Sometimes this only lasts one day, and then it's too late. If this happens, we pack up the helitorch and the barrels, clean the PSD machine and put it away. In the fall we will try again.
Now the burn units sleep under snow. Whether they will see fire this spring, nobody can say. Still, we will be ready.