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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Fire-fighter (10/05/06)

TITLE: The Fire We Almost Had to Fight
By Susan Gurney
10/11/06


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Backpacking into the southern Olympic Mountains was something our family did through the years. Once when I was in my early twenties and my sister a couple years younger, our parents decided we would hike into the mountains one weekend. There would be just the four of us. I don’t know what my youngest sister was doing—perhaps working—but this was a family hike she missed.

We parked our old green pickup near the end of the logging road which took us half way to the top of a partly logged mountain. After struggling for a time through a tangle of logging debris, it was a huge relief to find ourselves under the tall evergreen trees covering the higher slopes of the mountain. What a beautiful day! There was the blue sky, warm summer air, and a gentle breeze smelling of fir and spruce rustling the red-tinged leaves of the vine maple trees we climbed past on the natural trails formed by the passage of elk. The four of us crested the razor edge of the mountain ridge and we found ourselves looking down into a large open meadow stretching out like a giant’s green bowl.

We pitched our tents under a cluster of trees and then explored the broad meadow with its icy mountain stream, snow-stunted alpine evergreens, and low-growing wild mountain blueberries. We had dinner around the campfire, and then snuggled down for the night in our tent-covered sleeping bags.

Although it was a warm, clear night, a strong wind came up, roaring steadily through the forested ridge surrounding the mountain meadow. Since we were camped down in the natural bowl we were sheltered from the wind and didn’t become overly concerned. The next morning we rose early to break camp and eat breakfast before hiking back down to our pickup. I looked up while breakfast was cooking and pointed in the direction of the ridge we would be climbing over. “Isn’t that smoke I see?” I asked Dad.

Indeed it was smoke…and as we watched, it seemed to cover a larger area and it grew thicker and darker. Now we were very concerned! We hurriedly made sure our campfire was fully doused, threw our packs on our backs and started hiking quickly toward the top of the ridge, each of us silently praying that the fire producing the smoke was not between us and our pickup. We topped the ridge and started down through the trees on the other side. As we moved down the mountain we could tell the smoke was a bit farther away than we had first thought. We safely made it to our pickup and started the long drive back home on a series of narrow gravel logging roads.

But things still did not look good. We surmised that the high, dry wind of the night before had thrown about sparks from a nearly doused controlled slash burn. Dozens of small fires were burning everywhere in the upper river valley, some in the wood debris in logged off areas, and some in uncut forest. Worst of all, some of the fires were burning close to the road we had to travel. Occasionally we saw men in hardhats working on hot spots with their shovels. We met small buses full of men coming into the area to fight fire.

Always one to capture everything on film, Dad stopped his pickup now and then, jumped out of the pickup and buzzed away on his 8mm camera. This seriously upset Mom! “Let’s get out of here, before someone recruits you to fight fire!” she would impatiently call to him through the open pickup window. My sister and I kept to our own thoughts, but I think they were the same as Mom’s, with the addition of: “Let’s get out of here before the fire jumps the road and makes it impossible to get home!” and “Let’s get out of here before they make us all fight fire!” We were not exactly the bravest group of outdoor-persons, and we were certainly quite willing to get out of the way and let the “real” firefighters do their job.

Finally we got Dad pulled away from the excitement and on the road home. As forest fires go, I don’t think this one got very big…but it was certainly big enough to make it a topic of our family conversations for years to come. I think my little sister even wished she’d been along!


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Member Comments
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Marilyn Schnepp 10/12/06
Having such a short attention span, I almost missed the good part. I got bogged down with the first part of story, but the last two paragraphs were interesting, entertaining and enjoyable. Thanks for sharing your "brave" thoughts of fire-fighting...loved that part!