It rains. And rains. And rains some more. Locals say this is typical for June, but even they are starting to look skeptical. The rivers are at flood stage. It snows in the mountains. The crew hikes into a proposed tree planting unit to establish a sling site and finds a foot of snow. A fire crew without fires is a sad thing. It's only a matter of time before morale starts to plummet.
With all this precipitation, I've had a chance to reflect on the many types of rain that a fire crew might encounter. While it may all look similar, there are in fact subtle differences. Here are a few kinds I have identified:
Season-delaying rain: This typically starts in May and can continue into the summer months. If it lasts too long, it can turn into its soul-sucking cousin, no-season rain. At first, firefighters tend to be optimistic, forecasting that at least all this rain will cause lots of vegetation to grow, creating fuel for future fires. After awhile, they just tend to growl, get bitter and lose all hope.
Project-stopping rain: This type of precipitation usually occurs when the weather forecast is for 80 degrees and clear skies, and elaborate plans have been set in motion, such as ordering a helicopter with a $400 cancellation fee, getting people over from the neighboring forest, and leaving expensive gear out in the open. Project-stopping rain often leads to desperate statements as, "It looks like it's clearing up! Let's try it!" while equipment is slowly floating away and your crew is succumbing to hypothermia.
Pack test rain: This always occurs when you have to take your annual pack test (3 miles in 45 minutes with a 45 pound pack). Generally you end up wearing several pounds extra in wet clothes while the pack test administrator giggles smugly at you from a warm, dry vehicle, telling you to pick up the pace.
Type 1 rain: This occurs when you fail to get out of the way of a large helicopter water drop. This is a true rookie move. Don't let your crew see this happen.
Day 4 rain: As the name implies, this occurs early in a fire assignment while you are still counting your blessings for having escaped your dreary home unit for a supposedly lucrative two weeks away. If it keeps up, you'll be dragging your soggy, not much richer butt home on day 6 to what? Yes, more rain.
Season-ending rain: Assuming there actually is a fire season, this is the deluge that ends it. The pilot will be found sleeping much more than usual. The mechanic may be cranky. The crew hunkers in their hiding places. You actually have to attend mandatory training. You buy your ski pass. It will snow soon.
For now, we joke about the rain. We run in it, cut trees in it, and fix the leaks in our chase truck. We're a fire crew with no fires, with snow in June, but we are making the best of it. So far.