Saturday, September 15, 2018

The fire camp life

What's it like to live and work at a fire camp, you (didn't) ask?

As a new firefighter, my first glimpse of a camp was sort of overwhelming.  Our school buses rolled to a stop outside a miniature city, complete with a caterer, showers, and 3,000 people in it.  It was bigger than the town I lived in.  Little did I know that I would experience many such camps in the next 30 years.

I soon learned that camp was not a place most people desired to be.  "I had to get out of camp," people on overhead teams are often heard to say as they escape to the fireline.  "They're moving the camp to the helibase!" helitack people often exclaim in dismay.  Camps can be noisy, with generators, vehicles, and people talking loudly on their cell phones.  They are often a hotbed of disease: the "camp crud" is well known and feared, sending sniffles and hacking throughout the crew.  Someone always seems to set their tent up right next to yours and inevitably begin snoring.  There are porta potties.  You hope the food is good, but sometimes it isn't, or it's so late you have to choose between sleep, food, or a shower.

Meetings start early at camp, sometimes at 5:30, and if you're part of the overhead team, they can go late into the night as you rush to get paperwork completed for the next day's operations.  There are meetings to plan meetings.  If you need something like batteries, there is generally a supply unit.  Beware to the crew that tries to keep a returnable item though, because they will track you down and make it difficult for you to leave until you produce it.  These days there is usually a weed wash station to prevent the spread of noxious plants, and sometimes an enterprising T shirt vendor encamped outside the gate.

For me, the best fire camps are at the helibase or on the fireline.  You miss out on hot food much of the time, and there aren't any showers or medical tents to grab moleskin or bug spray, but in exchange you can pitch your tent far away from other people and look at stars at night instead of the lights outside of the mess tent.
I was fortunate to find this place to camp once.  I jumped in the river after every shift.
 Camp has its fun moments.  When you're in charge of something on the fire and people listen to you, it's good to be there.  You often run into people you haven't seen in years.  Also, there's sometimes chocolate milk.  Fire camps are also necessary to support the operation, consolidate supplies, and feed the firefighters.  But don't look for me there! Most likely I will be as far away as I can get.
Camping by my helicopter.  I was the only person out there at night.


  1. Good that you can sometimes pitch your tent away from all the chaos.

    1. If I had to be in the chaos all the time I couldn't stand it!

  2. I would be the one that would be pitching my tent as far away as possible for the peace and solitude!

    1. Yes! I don't get why people want to be so close together.

  3. Ode to the scrutinizing time ladies: One cannot get the big hours and hazard pay by frequenting fire camp. Stay on or close to the fireground where the pro operators live! You nailed the life with this one Lynn.


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