Friday, June 5, 2015

What happens in fire camp....

Even though it was decades ago, I still remember my first sight of a fire camp.  The other rookies and I stared incredulously out of the windows of our transport, a yellow school bus.  A sea of tents filled a field.  Vehicles drove busily back and forth.  There was a caterer, and showers, and even t-shirt vendors, who had hastily created shirts with a fire scene, slapped the current fire's name on it, and now lurked outside the camp boundaries hoping for sales.  The camp housed 3000 people, more than the town we lived in.

Fire camps, set up to house firefighters and support personnel while they are working on an incident, are a strange sight.  They sort of resemble an odd music festival without the bands or illegal substances (well, mostly).  As you'd expect from a temporary city, strange things sometimes go on there.

On my first fire, Teri and I were sleeping under a makeshift hooch, back before tents were issued on a regular basis.  A drunk man in his underwear approached, insisting that we were in his shelter.  "This isn't your crew!" we tried to tell him, but he wasn't buying it.  Eventually he stumbled off to bother someone else.

On another incident, the management team refused to set up showers for women, saying vaguely that they had had "problems" in the past.  Meanwhile, men streamed happily in and out of theirs.  In order to get a shower, women had to trek half a mile across camp to ground support, where if there was a driver available (often there wasn't), they would get driven to a school where apparently there were no "problems."  The joke was on that team though, because the school showers were much better than the ones in camp, and the men on our crew begged to be able to come along with us to use them.

A wedding took place at one camp; apparently the bride was afraid her groom would not return in time to participate in the one that was scheduled, so she tracked him down and married him right there.  That was one determined lady; however I question how committed the groom was, to go on a fire assignment so close to the ceremony.

Fire camp romances are pretty common.  Sometimes they even survive the fire.  The two Gs thought they were being surreptitious when they decided to share accommodations one evening. Alas, they suffered from poor tent placement and oversleeping, emerging together in front of the entire crew as everyone lined up for breakfast. 

Working at the helibase, you can sometimes escape the camps and sleep at the helicopter landing area.  While you're sometimes pressed into service to chase cows away from the aircraft since you're often using a farmer's field as a helibase, you also escape the rampant germs that infect most camps, noisy generators, and inconsiderate neighbors. 

These days I prefer to stay mobile, so if I get to have a vehicle, I'll search out a spot far away from other campers and sleep in the truck.  This way, I've seen moose ambling along dirt roads, northern lights, and elk crossing rivers, far away from snorers and questionable porta potties.  Then in the morning I can go to fire camp and forage for chocolate milk.  It's the best of both worlds.
View from my camp on a fire in Alaska


  1. Wow - great view in your photo! Interesting to read all the things that go on in a fire camp. Sounds like women weren't always treated very well either.

    1. Yes, and sadly this shower incident was in the 2000s not the 80s.

  2. The Observer/Scribe strikes again. Funny!

  3. Looks as if I can comment again.....enjoyed this look back at fire camp, and view of Alaska!


I try to answer all comments, so comment away!