In the wilderness in mid-October we are on the edge of winter. New snow sifts through the rocks at 7000 feet. The fire lookouts sit lonely in the cold wind and clouds. Season-ending rain is expected the next morning. And yet we fly toward a fire that runs up a ridge, cutting off two people and their dog above it. A few days from now, we will wait for the call to assist in the search for two lost hikers in the park, missing on trails covered in knee-deep snow. Today though, we fly low over a burning forest.
The two men have made it to an open area. It is the only semi-flat spot for miles. They are lucky: we will be able to land there and pick them up. The helicopter settles into a meadow below. I get out and drag out the 60 pound bucket, my pack; anything else non-essential. A line of fire a hundred yards away chews steadily through the dry grass. The helicopter lifts; Brian and Shawn head back up to pick up the men. Back at the meadow, they spill out of the helicopter in relief. Not normally smokers, they ask Shawn for some of his tobacco. We watch the fire spiral through the trees.
It is the last fire of the season. Our small group stands, talking and laughing like people do who have experienced something important, something we will remember into the winter snow and darkness. It's a good way to end it.