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Fire Base Likely

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9/13/12, Likely, CA (Coord. N. 41 deg., 13.573 min.; W. 120 deg, 30.321 min.)

Tonight, Iím writing this blog from the Fire Base Camp for the 10,000 acre ĎLikelyí fire, located a few miles to the southeast.  This has been a very nice and interesting day as I got to see first hand what it takes to fight a major wildfire.

After breaking camp this morning, I started my southward trek with the intention of having lunch in the town of Likely, 12 miles down the road.  Because a normal dayís travel would put me right in the middle of the burned over area from the fire, I also intended to find a place in Likely to camp for the night.

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.Heading down into the town of Likely. The fire was burning a few miles southeast of town and was now contained and into the mop up stage.

Just before starting down the hill towards the town of Likely, I met up with Jim Wilkins, the Information Officer for the ĎLikely Fireí. Jim invited me to camp at the Fire Base Camp, as a guest of the National Forest Service. The fire camp was set up at an old elementary school and an adjoining hay field in the town.  A separate heli-base was used to stage most of the air assets for the fire.

Just before I got to town, I met a Rancher whoís family settled this valley in 1871 and still ranch most of the land around the valley.  He was also a horse driving enthusiast and uses several teams to feed his cattle. He offered me a place to stay for the night, but I had to decline because I had already accepted the offer from the Forest Service.

While stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few supplies, I met up with two ladies from the Information Office that Jim had sent down to escort me to my camping spot at the Fire Base.  So with the two ladies onboard, we drove to our objective.

Itís quite an operation to support 600 people brought in to knock down a large fire. The camp reminded me an Army MASH unit.  It was in essence, a portable base camp that contained everything needed to house, feed and care for all the people.  It also acted to provide command and control and supply for the firefighting effort.

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Even with crowds, warning tape, machinery and supplies everywhere, the lads moved easily through the camp, with only a couple ďEasy ThereísĒ, from me.

Jim had also called and asked the rancher who owned the hayfield (adjoining the camp) to see it if was okay if I camped there. Iím sure this was the same family as that of the rancher I had talked to, so maybe I did accept both offers.

After settling the lads in on a nice pasture of green grass, the Forest Service brought over a water truck to fill up some containers for the lads and my empty jugs.

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With a long tradition of using horses, it was only fitting that USFS personnel should help drive the horses off the wagon tongue.

I was truly impressed with the operation.  The Forest Service usually runs the show, but it is a carefully orchestrated gathering of personnel from several government agencies and contractors that are used to contain and suppress a fire. For all the work I saw behind the scenes, itís still the guys and gals up on the hill with a shovel and saw doing the hard work to contain and extinguish the flames.  Most of the day these brave people were absent from camp, as they were up doing some hard, difficult work.  Around 6 or 7 pm, they started rolling down the hill and into camp. They were immediately recognizable by their soot covered and weary faces.

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The lads thought the grass was heavenly, but there was much more to come.

I was given a tour of the base and got a touch of what it takes to support and handle a very large crew of personnel out in the field.  In addition to the tent cities for housing, chow wagons and mess hall for feeding, there were departments for Supply, Safety, Information, Finance, Mobilization, Demobilization, Transportation, Air Operations and much more.  The organization easily rivaled the headquarters for a Battalion or Brigade of Army troops.

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One of the many tent cities used to house personnel fighting the fire.

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Contract personnel are used for many functions, including food.  This mess truck and the personnel who ran it serves up some pretty incredible meals. When you think of all the thousands of calories that people working the fire need, good food to fuel their engines (bodies) is important).

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I was invited to sample the cooking and it sure beat any chow I was served while I was in the Army.

Tomorrow morning, Iíve been invited to attend the Daily Briefing, held at 6 am (now, thatís just like the Army).  Iím looking forward to the opportunity to get a better feel for the Command and Control and how personnel are used to combat the fire.

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These are the charts at the podium in the briefing hall.

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Here, Iím being briefed on the location of the fire and areas of responsibilities. This map also shows containment lines and hot spots.

During my travels, Iíve often heard people express dissatisfaction on how the National Forest Service handles putting out fires. The reality of the situation as I see it is that they do a pretty good job.  A wildfire is just what the name implies. Terrain is often incredibly tough to navigate (like this fire, as road are almost nonexistent).  Also minor changes in weather conditions can have a tremendous affect on what occurs on the ground. These two factors alone can really reshape how a fire needs to be fought. On a dry year like this one, fires are burning all over the west. This can really stretch resources as crews are shuffled from one fire to the next.  Bottom line - These are some real professionals that do a great job!

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As the sun goes down, the lads are busy doing what they can to support the team - moral support. Throughout the day, they willingly consumed tons of apples and carrots as they helped give some hardworking men and woman a moment of inner peace and contentment.

Tomorrow, Iíll have some more info on the Likely Fire, to include; the morning briefing, the guys and gals going off to work and a look at a section of the fire.

Bob Skelding, Fire Base Camp Likely