- August 20, 2019
- Posted by Patty Derner and Toni Hardy
Three commercial flights from Cody, Wyoming to Fairbanks, Alaska. From there it took a 7-seater fixed wing, a helicopter and a boat ride to bring us into the Upper Yukon - our home and worksite for the next two weeks on the Hadweenzick River fire. The many hours of travel meant plenty of time for nervous excitement mixed with moments of panic and, “Oh my God, what if I’m not ready for this,” to “Heck yeah we’re going to Alaska!”
After two long days of travel we step off the boats onto the bank of the Chandalar River. The muddy bank is decorated by arctic wolf and black bear tracks, a reminder that although we will call this spot home for 14 days, we are guests in the territory of much wilder things.
Somehow something as foreign, wild and new as fighting fire in the Great Upper Yukon soon became a familiar dance as our group of 12 found our Alaskan rhythm and flow. Mornings of sipping cowboy coffee around the campfire and waiting for the daily radio briefing to give us a hint of what the day might bring. Then with our boots laced up, yellows tucked in, dolmars, pulaskis and saws in hand, we wait for the boats and their smiling drivers to bring us to our worksite among the black and white spruce. As we cut and clear a 30 foot indirect line, the smoke hangs low, drooping, just like our shoulders under the heavy weight of our packs.
Day by day we wait for what’s to come. It’s not always planned and it’s not always just cutting line and plumbing it (laying hose), waiting for the radio to buzz, “Wind River we have a mission for you.” How exciting it is to have a job where you can have fun with your crew and suddenly someone asks you to go on a mission, and you go kick a fire’s butt! Near the end of our roll there was a spot fire discovered across the river from the fire, and that was when our mission truly turned into kicking butt. We took our boat over to the fire and got to “go direct,” which means cutting line around the fire while it burns and sometimes even tries to smoke you out. It also means everything you touch is either green or black. If it’s hot it goes into the black (the fire or burned area), and if it’s cold it’s in the green. Everyone and everything was moving quickly to try to get this spot fire contained. It may have been small, but all the excitement made it seem very big to all of us. Then we got to mop up that fire, which was a lot of fun - spraying out the fire with hoses and churning up the dirt to make sure it wasn’t still holding any heat. Then eventually cold trailing it by touching all the black to make sure there weren’t any more hot spots and getting rid of those spots with more water! It seems like a lot when you explain everything we did, but it all went so fast and was one of the best experiences, being able to directly see the effect of everything we were doing.
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