Chapter 11, Lucerne fire
We hadn’t been training for more than a few days when on the 19th we got called up for a fire at Lake Chelan. It was at Lucerne which is about 35 miles up Lake Chelan, and reachable only by boat. We went up the lake from what is called “25-mile creek” on fairly small forest Service work boats, about 25 footers at best. It was mid afternoon and the wind was picking up on the lake and I remember spray coming over the sides of the boat and getting a little wet.
We got to the landing site and were greeted by a bus which took us up a gravel road to the hillside where the fire was. It was high on a West-facing hillside. The hike up the hill was tough. The loggers did it every day to get to work, so we were certainly down a few rungs in shape from these guys. It was only our fourth day on the job and we had only started the first two weeks with a half crew, apparently a federal funding thing. We weren’t in shape, that was readily apparent, but the fire served to give us an idea about what we were getting into. The vegetation was pretty thick and the line digging, what little we did, was a lot harder than we thought it would be.
The thing I remember most about this first fire was the steep terrain. There was a lot of logs and limbs in the fire area. I do not recall exactly how this fire started, but I do remember the loggers were using helicopters to log the side of the mountain, because it was so steep. It was surmised that the friction from a steel cable had caused the fire.
It wasn’t a big fire, but it did get exciting cause the loggers decide to do some logging while we were putting out the fire, and they lacked the common courtesy to yell “downhill”, as the trees were about to fall, so we never knew, except when the motor quit working, that a tree might be heading our way. Chuck got really pissed off about these guys, but other than yelling at them, there wasn’t much we could do, and by the afternoon of the next day we had the fire out.
We were on this fire from June 19 to June 23. Most of the time was spent mopping up. This was one of the few fires where we had water to put out the smoldering stumps. At the reunion I listened as Roger Cote reminded Larry Rued that he was the one who had walked way down the hill and had carried a couple of big rolls of fire hose back to the fire. The hoses probably weighed a hundred pounds.
Good old Roger. I remember now, how tired I was and how it just seemed impossible that Roger could get up the energy to go back down the hill and carry back up those heavy hoses. It’s coming back to me. There were a lot of reasons I could now finally drum up some reasons why maybe I liked the old “Lifer”.
Shit, the rest of us were plumb tuckered out from just trudging up the slippery and cold hill. Somebody from the forest service had set up a gravity feed for the water
hoses. They tapped into the many creeks in the area and we probably had a hundred pounds or more of water pressure at the hose outlet. I remember dragging those hoses over the fallen logs and brush and trying to keep from banging my shins or sliding on my nuts going over large upraised logs. Always had to be looking out for the family jewels. No one else would.
By the end of the first couple of days we had gotten our sea legs and were able to grab the end of a hose and literally rappel with it down the slope. It was fun hitting a smoldering stump with a hundred pounds of water and watching the volcanic "poof" as the water hit the burning coals. I do not know about the other guys on the crew, but I knew from my 1965 experience that having water to put out smoldering stumps was a luxury and certainly a lot easier than digging out the coals with a pulaski and shovel or waiting to get up the water pressure from your own personal hose and piss on the darn thing.
After the fire was all over, I we had a nice, but overly rambunctious meal at the Lutheran Camp and it seems that I recall bunking over for the night. Chuck told us to keep the blue words down, which was a big strain for most of us. The people were very nice and seemed very appreciative of what we had done – or at least we thought they appreciated us, us conquering heroes.
We got on to a couple of buses and rode down to the ferry landing to meet up with the Lady of the Lake, a ferry which was the only regularly scheduled link between the head of the lake, Stehekin, and the rest of the world. We rode the ferry to 25 mile creek, got in our crummies and started the relatively short drive back to Entiat, about an hour away.
We just about got back to camp when we heard a bunch of fire sirens and all hell breaking loose, right on the edge of town, so Chuck, bless his heart, got us out of the crummies and had us dig some quick line around the fire just to show the townspeople that we did something besides drink beer and lech after their daughters. While this was a short exercise, we weren’t expecting it, so we had dumped all of our canteen water out, to be later replenished with good Entiat tap water, and of course, I was dying of thirst again with little relief in sight We were really pissed off about this exercise, after all, the possibility of tall cool Rainier Beers was only minutes away and then this fire gets in our way, but we got over it just like we got over all the rest of it.