The first few weeks of November were enlightening, to say the least. After a whirlwind of trainings, workshops, and power-point presentations, I was finally growing into a novice wildland firefighter. The only thing I felt like I hadn't done yet was be on a fire, though it seemed like a long way off to put my knowledge to use. Little did I know, a short three days later I would be thrust into my first real flaming, smoking, smoldering fire. Our first fire occurred midday in a forest in Laclede County. We drove through a cow pasture to the edge of a wall of grey smoke engulfing the edge of the nearby forest. Somehow, that first fire was in retrospect a bit unremarkable. There was a lot of noise from the blowers, a lot of heat from the fire perimeter, and one quick back-burn, and from where I was the work on the fire was over. We rehabbed our gear, picked up the other crew, and got back to work elsewhere.
The real remarkable and surreal moment on fire happened that evening. We were called into a fire in Dallas County near the end of the day. It was still light, and as we got there the sun was just beginning to slip through through the trees. We were quickly ushered toward a field of flaming grass, parked in the scorched black section, and geared up to attack the flames before they reached a nearby trailer.
As I reached the line and a water-tanker engine began to douse the fire, I was pulled off to attack the other front with a blower. My half of the crew marched down the scratch line put in place by the local rural fire department, widening it along the way, in order to meet up with the other half of us to encircle the fire.
For the first time the scenery was getting to be not only like nothing I had seen before but somehow made more of an impact on me than earlier in the day. I don't know if it was the sensory deprivation of the ear-plugs along with the roaring of the blower motor, but it was like all of my other senses were on 'slow-motion' and 'record'. I remember the feel of the tall flames behind me licking the seat of my Nomex pants as I turned to clear the leaves opposite of me. I remember the golden rays filtering through the trees and the monstrous look of the bulldozer's white lights as it cut through the forest. I remember being able to see little through the dark trees but the shower of sparks that would rain off of the burning snags as the bulldozer took them out one-by-one.
It was one of the more surreal and beautiful moments of my life. I had just been thrust into this force of nature that I had never had experience with and come out safely on the other side, having done something good in the mean time. I felt lucky to have been where I was, doing what I was doing-- which is also pretty nice.
Jesse Bright; ERT Year 17