By Ross Seyfried
The echoing blast almost threw me from my bed at 2:30 a.m., and then the world went silent. I wondered, was it thunder? There seemed to be no lightning, not even a storm at hand. The shuddering explosive sound seemed more like the crash of an airliner or some other explosion. It was August, dry, brittle, baking August. The time of fire, the time when lightning or anything like it is not friendly.
I could not see nor smell any signs of fire in the darkness, and after a moderate search went back to bed. But at 5:00 a.m. a hint of smoke was in the air. Ten minutes later the Rubicon had taken me high enough on a ridge to see the eerie glow in the big canyon below. There had indeed been one single lightning strike in the county that night, and it had sparked a blaze. The battle had begun.
The first phone call went to the Department of Forestry and into its beleaguered fire dispatch. There were almost two million acres of wildfire in the West at that very moment. Help was on the way, but there was much preliminary work to do. First was the blue flagging to mark the road turn-offs and trails that would lead the firefighters efficiently and unerringly to the blaze. The job would have taken an hour in a pickup; the ATV did it in about 20 minutes. I evaluated the still-infant inferno from a safe distance and decided to trade a shovel and small water pack for a bulldozer. Again, the nimble Honda covered the distance quickly, and soon the Caterpillar was rumbling into the canyon. A fire fight is just that, a battle, a war. One that should be waged efficiently, ruthlessly and aggressively.
[WARNING: Fighting fires is exquisitely dangerous work, even for those with training and experience. In fact, inexperienced people would not only put themselves in peril, but might also put many lives at risk. So do not try this at home. There are times when a civilian with an ATV can be a huge help, but never enter any fire zone without professional direction!]
I had begun to cut fire lines parallel to the blaze with the big dozer when real help arrived. The world was not pretty: nearly 20 acres of roaring, cracking fire, crowning into the timber, and growing fast. The humidity hung at an impossibly low eight percent, and the temperature was approaching 80 degrees. If the blaze topped the canyon wall and burned into the big, dry grass meadows, well, the professionals were already making plans to try to stop it with an interstate highway only miles away! But all was not lost; the help was big and real.
Soon a second bulldozer and then a third began plowing bare dirt to surround the flames, and suddenly the huge helicopter was dropping water and the retardant bombers were at work, not to mention almost 50 people with Pulaski fire fighting tools in hand. By dark it was surrounded, by daylight the next morning it was contained. But contained and out are two entirely different words. The soil was almost red-hot, sometimes two feet into the ground, while glowing roots, logs, stumps and trees were everywhere inside the lines. Or said another way, there were immense amounts of fire only 12 feet from all of the tinder-dry grass and timber outside the lines. The fire needed water, but natural rain was about two months away.
I know they were doing their job, but I felt genuinely sorry for the soot-covered, sweaty, dead-tired-looking young men and women who were manning the lines. They had been on their way home from a relentless two-week war against a 200,000-acre monster. While on their way home for their first day of rest in weeks, they were snagged to fight the Rock Creek Fire in my neighborhood. They had begun to slog up and down the steep lines with heavy rolls of fire hose over their shoulders. It would take more than a mile of it to complete the task, and perhaps as much as a half a day to carry it into place. There was a better way.
I loaded the baskets on the Rubicon with rolls of hose, valves and fittings and began to string the raw material along the dozed fire lines. Now all the firefighters had to do was make up the connections, unroll the hose and stand by for the delivery of the wondrous, cooling water. In an hour we were ready to start the pumps! And to say my little yellow machine was greeted with welcome smiles from beneath the ash and soot is, well, a mild understatement. Too, this was not the only Honda ATV in action. There were others in the backs of Department of Forestry pickups, ones used by fire bosses for quick transport and communication on the difficult mountain trails.
In the end, the battle was won. Only a small part of the world burned, and even though it took two weeks of careful babysitting to keep it from starting up again, I am happy to report it is out, dead and gone. And while ATVs are for good times and fun, they can be wonderful tools in bad times as well.
Editor’s note: Ross Seyfried has spent most of a lifetime living in outback conditions where the rule of thumb is “do it yourself or move back to town.” Which is to say, on a regular basis he does things that most people should never attempt, such as some of his exploits contained above, along with the strong warnings he has attached to his exploits.
Ross Seyfried has been an editorial contributor to Petersen’s Hunting, Guns & Ammo, American Rifleman, American Hunter, Rifle, Handloader, Successful Hunter, Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, Cigar Aficionado, The Double Gun Journal, Under Wild Skies, Sporting Classics and Vapen Tidningen (Sweden). He served as a licensed professional hunter in Zambia and Tanzania and is now a licensed guide and outfitter in Oregon.