Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fire Season 2012 Halfway Point

By this point in the season last year, Berkeley had been to West Texas, both the AZ and NM fronts of the Wallow Fire, and spent a week on the Las Conchas Fire near Santa Fe, NM. He had worked until 9 or 10 o'clock at night several times a week and he had been the IC on a fire.

This season has been a lot different. I think this has been my least favorite season. To be honest, I feel like this has been the roughest season yet. By comparison Berkeley hasn't been away from home as much as this point last summer. He has been on three assignments this summer just like last summer, but these have been three different types of assignments. Instead of three big fires, Berkeley's summer has been filled with backfilling, prepositioning, and severity (sounds like gibberish? check out my Fire Life Vocabulary post).

The Gladiator fire was reported on May 13th on Prescott National Forest, which is directly south of the Kaibab (the forest Berkeley is on). One would think that the ROSS and ICS system would use the closest available resources to fight that fire, but no, Berkeley did not get assigned to fight the Gladiator. On Monday May 14, Berkeley got called off of his days off to provide support to the Prescott National Forest.

Smoke from the Gladiator Fire

When the local resources are pulled into such a big (Type 1) incident like the Gladiator, the local area is left without the man power to control and suppress an other incidents that may occur. Berkeley and his crew were called down to fill in aka backfilling. Usually duties include patrolling and menial day to day work.

One the upside, Berkeley was able to IC a fire while he was down there. The fire started from a power line transformer exploding and catching fire to the grass beneath it. It was small but involved coordination with outside agencies like the power company APS. At this point, he is still an ICT5 trainee, but I am so proud that another forest, that has never seen him work, trusted him to manage this fire. In all, they were only gone for two days.

On May 27th, Berkeley was sent to Mesa, Arizona for prepositioning on the Tonto National Forest. During this time a whole slough of fires were popping up down in that area. They bring resources to the Mobilization Center so that when their is a new incident, the resources can respond faster and hopefully get control faster. They spent the one day in Mesa and then were moved to Globe for Severity. They spent two days patrolling.

Thursday May 31st their assignment ended abruptly. Thursday May 31st was also probably one of the scariest days for me of Berkeley's whole career. An oncoming car veered over 3 traffic lanes and collided with Berkeley's engine. The car hit the engine right behind the cab of the truck. For now, the above picture is the only one I can share since the accident is still under investigation. As you can see, the car ripped off all of the side bins. Also the rear axle was destroyed along with the drive shaft, break cables, and drive lines. Thankfully, there were no major injuries on the crew. The driver of the other vehicle sustained some pretty intense head injuries.

After spending the last month supporting other forests' Severity, the Kaibab National Forest and Grand Canyon Park went on their own Severity. When your forest and/or district has Severity funding the local resources are usually made unavailable nationally. Berkeley was basically stuck on the Kaibab for 60 hours a week. Not only was he working Base 8's, he worked two hours of overtime everyday and worked one of his days off for two months.

Now that severity is over, Berkeley is currently in Montana on the Lewis and Clark National Forest. For more Severity support! Thankfully, he is a seeing action here. As I write this he is preparing to get on a helicopter to be dropped at a helo spot to hike to work on part of complex of fires in the middle of nowhere. Talk about crazy.

Given all of this, I hope now people can see why this has been my most stressful season yet. An accident, and helicopter drops into the backcountry. I don't think I would be as stressed or anxious if Berkeley was on active fire lines, or contributing to the suppression of the Type 1 incidents. I feel better when I can see the results of all of this alone time. Wilderness and Backcountry fires, and patrolling are the worst on me. Hopefully, the next few months of the season go much more smoothly than these first few months!

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