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BurgessCamille.magazinelayout

BurgessCamille.magazinelayout

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Published by Camille Burgess

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Published by: Camille Burgess on Jun 11, 2013
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06/11/2013

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The Relentless Battle
 
he weather is hot and dry, the winds unpredict-able but generally strong in the afternoon. Fire condi-tions are extreme. Earlier, at Jackson Hole, Wyoming,I had asked Ed Waldapfel, a Forest Service informa-
tion ofcer, how long the ordeal would continue. Heanswered candidly: “It’ll burn until the rst snowfall,maybe this week, maybe next month. We just don’tknow.” Now, before moving up to the re line, I mustreport to Fire Information Ofcer Dennis Neill and
have my gear inspected. None of it is acceptable.
“No, you can’t wear jeans and a sweatshirt,” he says.And those gloves aren’t regulation. Those bootsdon’t look too good either.” “Aw, come on,” I protest,“these are expensive leather work boots. They’ve
even got steel toes.” “Steel toes?” he says. “I once
worked a re over in Oregon. Had a new crew. Don’t
know where they got their boots, but they had steeltoes in them.Seven of my men stepping in a hot spot, andby the time they got out of it those steel toes hadroasted their feet. Crippled all of them.” Neill march-
es me over to supply and soon I’m outtted like theI’ve got a web belt around my waist with two plas
-
tic canteens, along with a re shelter. The shelter deserves special attention. It’s used as a last resort,when the reghter has no route of escape fromthe approaching ames and must the re actuallypass over his body. The reghter wraps himself in
the shelter, a thin metallic blanket, creating a pro-
tective cocoon. Many reghters have this piece of 
gear to thank for their lives.
The boots are still a problem. Supplydoesn’t carry them because, of course, realreghters bring their own. But an impromptu
commissary has been set up in the camp by an
entrepreneurial couple out of Jackson. The store
offers a few items otherwise unavailable to the
men. After trying on several boots, I nally select
a $95 pair that looks suspiciously similar to a $40set I recently owned. Something to do with supplyand demand, I suspect.
The reghters departed camp early this
morning and have been gone for hours, but JimChard, a camp supervisor, offers to guide me out
“It’ll burn until the snowfall, maybe this week,maybe next month.”
Fire Storms Sweep through Yellowstone National Park
Written by: Dan Morrison
34
 
In 11 days, the Huck Fire has burned46,581 acres and has run up a bill ofnearly $2.6 million. Thirty-six crews (acrew consists of 20 people) – including 10Army crews and 198 overhead people –are ghting it, mostly to no avail.
35
 
A coyote camp is nothing more than an area the
reghters have cleared a safe distance from theames. There, they throw down their sleeping
bags, often within several yards of the blaze.
Darkness arrives early. I check out 12
yards of black plastic from the supply tent, tie it toa tree, tuck my sleeping bag inside and crawl into
my spike-camp condo. As I’m slipping in and outof sleep, Ivan wakes me to explain I’ve failed ba
-sic woodsmanship by tying my makeshift tent to a“snag” – a dead tree that will possibly fall on me
in the middle of the night. I’m too tired to get up to
redo my sleeping arrangements. Ivan is disgustedwith my ignorant city ways but apparently decidesnot to press the point. “Listen,” Ivan lectures, “if you hear three short blasts on the air horn, grabyour gear and get down to the meadow as quick
as you can. Three blasts means we’re either aboutto be overrun by the re or we’ve got a grizzly in
camp.”
I sleep tfully. At odd intervals, trees on
the hillside just across the meadow “candle,” burst-
ing into ames with a loud faroosh! and lighting
up the sky.At 5 a.m., I awaken to someone yelling
“Aiyiyi! Come on! Let’s get it!” The next thing Inotice is my nose is frozen. The thing about trying
to sleep on the ground at 7,000 feet is it can beabove 90 degrees in the evening when you go tosleep and below freezing in the morning when youwake up.
The thermometer reads 30. I stumble out
of my sleeping bag, pull on my boots and stagger over to the huge steaming coffee urn next to themess tent. Ivan is already there.“Good morning,” he says. “You might liketo know we had a sow grizz and her cub circlethe camp last night. Apparently she decided not tocome in. Security found their tracks this morning.”
The reghters amble out of their lairs
in the woods and down to the main camp area,standing around diesel-fed Salamander space
heaters to keep warm. The smoke for the forestre is so thick everyone is coughing, spitting on
the ground. I ask Ivan what the long-term effects
of breathing all this smoke are. “Well, they say it’s
equivalent to smoking two packs a day.”Ivan asks about my intentions. I explain I
want to get closer to the re, to see how the crews
work. He eyes me doubtfully.“Can you keep up?”
“Sure. No problem.” That’s a lie, of heaters to keep warm. The smoke for the forestre is so thick everyone is coughing, spitting on
the ground. I ask Ivan what the long-term effects
of breathing all this smoke are. “Well, they say it’s
equivalent to smoking two packs a day.”Ivan asks about my intentions. I explain I
want to get closer to the re, to see how the crews
work. He eyes me doubtfully.“Can you keep up?” “Sure. No problem.”
That’s a lie, of course. But at the time I didn’t know
it.
“Well, okay. The Apache Hotshots willbe leading out of camp, and we’ll fall in between
them and the Mescaleros,” he says.
The Apache Hotshots are a crew out of 
Fort Apache, Wyoming, the Mescaleros from
Mescalero, New Mexico. Both are Apache Indian.Most American Indian reservations eld reght
-ing crews; with nearly 80 percent unemployment,
ghting res is one of the principle sources of 
income for some of the tribes.
As I’m cinching up my canteen belt, I no
-
tice I can’t understand what the Hotshots are say
-ing. “Yeah, they often speak Apache,” explains
Ivan. “That’s so others can understand them.”
Standing in line to pick up a sack lunch for later inthe day, I realize the two Apaches in front of meare conversing in sign language.
At %:30 there is a brieng. Yesterday thisre moved three miles in just nine minutes, consum
-ing an additional 6,000 acres of national park.When the meeting ends, the Hotshots
lead off across the eld and into the woods.We’re heading for Wildcat Ridge. Ivan and I
fall in; the Mescaleros fall in behind us. I am not
easily impressed by tough men. I’m a 36-year-old
ex-Marine who has worked with Israeli comman-
dos, Army Rangers, mercenaries, revolutionaries,
counter-revolutionaries, bikers, Ku Klux Klansmen,survivalists, long-distance runners, dynamite men,
construction workers, oileld trash. But I’ve never 
seen anything like the Apaches.
The reghters departed camp early this morning
and have been gone for hours, but Jim Chard,a camp supervisor, offers to guide me out to thesource of this part of the Yellowstone inferno –
the Huck Fire. It started August 20, when 50-mphwinds blew a tree across power lines. In 11 days,the Huck Fire has burned 46,581 acres and hasrun up a bill of nearly $2.6 million. The reghters
amble out of their lairs in the woods and down tothe main camp area, standing around diesel-fed
36

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