In the pitch dark, with layers of smoke blocking out the moon and stars, a lone driver takes off on a mission. He meanders his pickup through a maze of old logging roads that would trap a man easily. He feels a slight adrenaline rush of the fight or flight syndrome as he encounters ridiculously steep drop offs at every switchback. It’s a long, treacherous drive, and as he approaches an alder tunnel he fears he has missed his drop point. There are no turnouts on the hill where the Bay Horse fire is active. The old road warrior continues through the brushed in access road in hopes of finding the initial attack team that is spike camped out for the night. Busting through the one last bottleneck of vegetation, the wheel man arrives at the bivouacked squad’s location. Justin Figgins’s exhausted, black-faced crew are glad to see the driver, who has hot meals, Gatorade and other goodies, as well as humorous comments for the men and women of this squad.
All of us in fire world know the folks on the line need our support, and numerous professional teams do just that. The crew shouts out a hearty thank you to the humble driver, who promises to relay the message to Rae Ann and Terry of the catering crew. It will be another long night for all. Back at base camp, the DNRC overhead team continues to strategize to combat a constantly increasingly dangerous 2017 fire season. The Libby State office fire management team officer, Logan Sandman, is exceptionally effective for a very young man. But this figures, as his father and grandfather were both involved professionally in fire world in their day. Along with Dave Marsh forestry manager, Mike Justice on logistics, Jeremy Akin heading up operations, Tammy Lauer handling administration and finances, and Jeb Butler as supply unit coordinator this team deals relatively effectively with the challenges of fire fighting assignments considering the units small size. But as the old saying goes, it’s not the size of the cowboy in the fight, but the size of the fight in the cowboy! This unit is bolstered by many young, strong and dedicated men and women who maintain their sense of humor and enthusiasm, and whom without the tasks simply could not be accomplished.
After their long nights at spike camp, Figgins’s crew is exhausted but far from beaten. With high winds and less than 20 foot winds increasing, low humidity, and higher temperatures as well as red slash fuel loads, concerns mount. The team, after some foot, lookout, and aerial recon, decides to pull the squad out. Good thing too. The very next day, the Moose fire makes a run to the east crossing the Miller Lake /Sylvan Lake road and busts up the ridge where Riggins’s team in northwest Montana was battling the Bay Horse fire. Definitely a near disaster was avoided.
These scenarios are occurring across the landscape of Kootenai Country fires daily. Fire world is not for the faint hearted. The situation in northwest Montana has become more precarious and challenging as September rolled in. An experienced interdisciplinary team known as the blue team has set up camp at J. Neils Park. Many of these firefighters all over our corner of Big Sky Country have been at this now for months so please extend your thanks to them. You will make their tired eyes light up.
Perhaps, we are not human beings going through a temporary spiritual experience. Rather, we are spiritual beings going through a temporary human experience.