Life Inside A Forest Fire Fight

Monday, July 01, 2013

The 2000 forest fire in Bitterroot Forest, Montana (John McColgan/catherinetodd2/flickr)

Nineteen elite forest firefighters died yesterday battling the Yarnell Hill blaze in Central Arizona. Dick Mangan, retired from the U.S. Forest Service as the Fire Program Leader at the Missoula Technology Development Center at Missoula, discusses what life is like on the front lines of a forest fire. Plus: We take calls from local firefighters to share their thoughts on the day's news.

Comments [3]

I had the fascinating and unforgettable experience of fighting a historically massive forest fire in the Pacific Northwest some years ago. A few points: 1. in addition to the heat of the fire, one is wearing heavy canvas clothing including helmets, high boots, and backpacks. 2. Being in the middle of a large fire is fairly existential, and surprisingly, not that frightening because there is so much preparation involved. That said, it is exhausting as you are working up to 20 hours straight, sleeping amidst fire and smoke, and very dirty. 3. Many great people help the firefighters -- including locals who volunteer to cook steak meals for firefighters 3-4 times a day, for us, served out of ice cream trucks. 4. There is a considerable amount of specialization within the firefighting effort, and the "old hands" can often be found giddily slicing up burning or smoking trees like they obviously love their jobs!

That all said, in an ideal world there might be fewer, not more, firefighters -- at least in National Parks. Why? Those men and women are working so valiantly because they are trying to save one of a few dozen remaining tracts of land where visitors can see "old growth" and "real animals." The establishment of a National Park System is based on a bifurcated, sad land usage model: Tree Museums, and Real Estate -- with little in between. If a regional park means to represent that stand of woods that used to be near your house but is now a 100 houses and a MobilMart, then each acre burned is really amplified into hundreds or thousands of acres. I would prefer that more Dept. of Interior resources were directed toward "micro-parks," or that the BLM's priorities were re-directed from commercial exploitation and subsidization of big MNCs to preservation of what natural world remains.

Jul. 01 2013 02:33 PM

Just another reason to abandon these rural areas
How much more money and lives for private homes in the fire prone areas year after year.

Jul. 01 2013 11:54 AM
percy from nyc

So these firemen were burned alive?
I can't even begin to think of that. So grizzly and horrifying. This 130 degree heat is unfathomable.

Jul. 01 2013 11:40 AM

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