Friday, September 30, 2011

smoke on the water

It's burning season. The hint of rain is in the air, so the districts are scrambling to light fire on their burn units during this last breath of summer. Back in the day, this might have involved a few people and a couple of drip torches, but now we do nothing without a mountain of paper. Burn plans. Aerial Ignition Project Aviation Safety Plans. Job Hazard Analyses. Go-no go checklists. Several briefings. We suffer through them all, impatient to get to what we all want to do: burn stuff.

It is a poorly kept secret that firefighters don't really want to put fires out. No, we don't want your houses to burn, or the little forest critters, but being on the the steepest, nastiest fire is preferable to sitting in the office doing personnel paperwork and taking required computer security training. We look forward to these times, where we can light fire and watch it burn.

My crew hooks the helitorch up to the helicopter. Pilots like this type of ignition, because they get to fly by themselves and drip fire from a barrel of gas, diesel, and an additive called Flash 21, which is every bit as noxious as it sounds. For those of us at the helibase, this means periods of intense boredom interspersed with the flurry of activity required to switch barrels when the helicopter returns. We hang out, talking about pad thai and (the women) about why men are so difficult. The men mainly agree with this. We can't see the fire from where we are. We look forward to fuel stops, when we can quiz the pilot about the burn.

It's a bittersweet day. Many of the crewmembers are only working one more week. So we enjoy it, even if we aren't up in the helicopter dropping fire. As Brad and I drive back to the station, we start to see the smoke above the reservoir. The burn is going well, and we all had a part in it. A grizzly bear crosses the road in front of us. An enormous crescent moon hangs in the sky. This day is a gift.

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