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The Fire, Then Stuck


9/14/12, S. Of Likely, CA (Coord, - N. 40 deg, 59.787 min.; W. 120 deg. 29.624 min.)

The day started out great, but ended a little tough. In the morning, I had an opportunity to sit in on the morning briefing, see the folks off to work, say goodbye to friends, then see the remnants of the fire first hand. In the late afternoon, as I was pulling into a potential camping spot, I found myself trapped in one of natures minefields.

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The morning briefing was conducted very professionally.  The various departments presented good ‘need to know’ information with no grand standing.  Corporate America could definitely take lessons from this meeting. In fifteen minutes, everybody had the information they needed to go to work and nobody used the opportunity to massage their egos.

I’ve never been a meeting person.  As a matter of fact, when I was a Supervisor I delegated stand-ins to attend some of the B.S. type meetings, on the pretext that everybody should have an opportunity to share the grief. However, this meeting was short and to the point, a real breath of fresh air.

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After the meeting I shared breakfast with some firefighters, who were filling up on calories before heading up on the hill.  By the way, a sooty face is a badge of honor for many of these men and woman. In the movie ‘Always’ when Holly Hunter had all the firefighters wash up before they danced with her in her white dress, it must have been tough on all the sooty firefighters.  Oh, the sacrifices people make!

As I hitched up and got ready to drive out of the Fire Base, a lot of good friends stopped by to say goodbye. Chief among them was my good friend and fellow teamster, Jim Wilkins, the Information Officer.  Jim is a former Belgian Driver that now has a couple pair of Haflingers. It was great getting to know Jim.

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Jim Wilkins, Camp Information Officer, Teamster and good friend.

I was in know hurry leaving the camp, and lots of good people stopped by to give the horses a final pet.

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These young ladies and men are members of California’s Conservation Corp, which is an organization similar in many regards to the CCC of the great depression.  Many of these folks were from the inner city and had never been near a horse before.

Three miles outside of town, I came upon the edge of the Likely fire.  The fire had actually burnt on both sides of the highway for a distance of about three miles. The fire started when a motor home caught fire and burnt up (I’ve heard of this happening several time before).

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Several hotspots remained of the 150 square mile fire and the crews were out extinguishing them.  Hot spots are identified by the smoke, but also by a plane that flew over the burn with an infrared camera.

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This is the containment line on the Northwest edge of the fire.  Bulldozers and skidders were used to create a fire break and the area was back-burned to provide a barrier with no combustible material.  The red shading on the edge of the back-burn is fire retardant.

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This line marks the southern edge where the fire burn on both the east and west sides of US 395/

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As the road climbed through the burn area, it took on an appearance similar to a lunar landscape.

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A staging area where fire crews parked their vehicles and started walking out to their work areas. With very few roads in the BLM Wilderness Area, reaching an area to work the fire often meant the firefighter had to first hike an hour or more.

As the lads pulled the wagon through the mountains, we picked up about a 1000 feet in elevation.  Finally, shortly after lunch, the wagon crossed the summit. It’s now suppose to be downhill or flat all the way to Susanville.

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The guys really like seeing these summit signs - I wonder why?

Several miles after I reached the summit and started my trek across the flats, I spied a likely camping spot. A rancher had an irrigation ditch running right next to the right-of-way ditch, which meant i could water the horses.  At a drive to a wire gate I pulled on to the right of way, drove about 100 feet and started to turn around.  As I commenced my turn, the right side wheels on both the wagon and trailer seemed to disappear. The ground wasn’t marshy, so I hopped off the wagon to investigate.

Over the years, water from the irrigation ditch had honeycombed the soil on the right of way and left huge voids, many more than two feet deep.  The only way I was going to get out was backwards, the same way I came in, but only in reverse. After jacking up the wagon and trailer and throwing whatever I could under the tires, I though I was set to drive out.  What I ended up doing was - I went through several gyrations of jacking the tires up higher and throwing more stuff under the wheels.  I also had to disconnect the trailer. Before I could use the teams to pull it backwards, I had to unload about half the supplies.  The team was tired, but I finally managed to get the trailer back on to the solid access drive.  The wagon was more difficult and the team took about an hour to pull it most of the way back to the access drive. Just short of the drive, I had to move the wagon tongue (the horses were pulling from the rear) so I had to stop the team.  When I tried to start them up again, I saw that they had hit rock bottom and were played out.  Knowing I couldn’t squeeze blood out of a carrot, I unhitched them an tied them to the wagon for the night. (I didn’t try to put out an electric fence, fearing a horse might break a leg in the honeycombed ground.

So my chore for tomorrow morning is to unstick the wagon, rehitch the trailer, then reload the supplies. With a fresh team this ought to work a lot better,.  On the plus side, the horses have all been watered and my empty containers are full.

Right now, I’m beat and headed to bed.