Saturday, September 5, 2009

Early Life On The Fire Line

Yesterday, Earl Moore over at Meandering Passages posted an awesome image of storm clouds. He said that they reminded him of the massive columns of smoke rising above the fires burning in the Los Angels area. His comments got me to reminiscing about my days as a forester who also doubled as a wildland fire fighter. My reminiscing sent me to search my photo archives for an image or two of how fires were fought in the "good old" days. I found these beauties, but first this disclaimer: all photos predate the use of the digital camera and all were taken as snap shots while performing some fire related duty.

The first image shows what life on the fire line was like circa 1777; oh how things have changed! The crew is obviously taking a well deserved break and likely eating lunch. In those days, the noon time meal consisted of a baloney sandwich, an apple or an orange and maybe a Hostess Twinkies or two. Yea, believe or not, we actually ate baloney and Twinkies! It's a time honored tradition to complain about fire lunches and being served baloney for several day in a row did little to break the cycle.

Today's fire fighter still complains about the lunches, but believe me, they are now light years past baloney. Meals are now planned to provide sufficient caloric intake to match the physical demands of the job. At most fires, vegetarians will also be provided with a meal suitable for their dietary requirements.

You might also notice how the old school fire fighters once dressed. In times gone by, we wore only cotton shirts and pants along with leather boots. Today, no fire fighter would venture into the burning forest without totally fire resistant clothing, AKA nomax, and a fire shelter that you pray will never be needed!

I took the above photo in August of 1990 while assigned to the Awbury Hall fire which destroyed twenty-two homes west of Bend, OR. The next photo shows a sight all too often seen; the charred skeletal remains of someone's dream home. Prior to 1990, all of the fires I worked actually brunt deep in the forest and when we lost a structure, it was an old mining cabin or a barn. The sight of this many homes consumed in less than twelve hours was something that took me by surprise. Unfortunately over the next ten years of my career, the sight would be repeated many times.

My final image is of every fire fighter's friend, the portable out-house. Now you have appreciate the fact that much of eastern Oregon is very rural and if a community exists, the resident population might not exceed a few hundred. When a fire erupts in the nearby forest, hundreds of fire fighters descend and require the most basic of services. During my career, I worked fires that had fifty or more of the portable "comfort palaces" on site. The man who serviced these necessities was among the busiest individuals one any fire. We were always glade to see him, especially on a hot day!!

The last time I worked the fire lines was the summer of 2003; I can say that for the most part, it was fun while it lasted, but I honestly do not miss it!!


Earl said...

Steve, wonderful photos, memories and stories. Also thanks for your work and service fighting fires and protecting homes.

Hey, when your hungry I'd imagine a baloney sandwich could taste mighty least that the first day! ;-)

Steve Skinner said...

Thank Earl! It was your post that got me to remembering when.

Shelby said...

that's really quite something.. so sad, but so great that people fight the fires.

Anita Jesse said...

What a wonderful post. Your photos effectively illustrate life on the job. Thanks for the reminder of the amazing work that fire fighters do. And, another thank you for your service.

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