I feed the machine, filling it with spheres containing potassium permanganate, and watch them roll into the gates where they will be injected with glycol and then spit out through a chute. I see them dropping almost lazily, spiralling through the trees. Once on the ground they turn into orange blossoms of fire. The forest is dry, the kind of dry where you walk through it and everything crackles under your feet. Our little fires are hungry and they grow together, running up the hill and climbing into the trees.
Johnny Cash sings "Ring of Fire" on the pilot's iPod. The firing boss next to him smiles back at me; we like these moments when the fire churns through the forest like an angry living thing. We light each line, then back off to watch it catch. It only takes seconds. We fly so close that the heat from the fire feels like a sunburn.
Our control of fire is always tenuous. It only takes one spark, lifted by an errant gust of wind, to undo days of work. But now the burn is going just like we wanted it to, and we watch the smoke climb into the sky. A sphere jams the machine and causes a fire in it. "I have a fire," I say, activating the emergency water, but we are done anyway. We drop down to the helibase, and put our feet back on the ground.