Sunday, September 28, 2014

King Fire Demobilization

These images are of the King Fire probably taken Sept. 17th or 18th.

My Firefighter returned home yesterday late afternoon. It was raining torrentially on his last day and accommodations were full in the camp. Flu had hit 1000 personnel, so they were more than happy to find alternate accommodations even though it turned out to be a warehouse room in a school, similar to a gymnasium, but not as nice. Apparently, 1,000 personnel came down with flu at the camp, but it sounds more like food poisoning to me since it only lasted 24 hours and was described as "coming out both ends" rather than chills, aches and fever.

Despite Apple's face, she adores My Firefighter, and has him wrapped around her little finger. She's just hates the flash on the camera so she wasn't thrilled taking pictures, especially with the camera on the timer to get us all.

I've been working on my house all this last week and got another room arranged so that was a nice surprise. Now, instead of sitting at the kitchen table, the far end of the dining room is now a family room with a sofa. It's close enough to kitchen that we can still talk, but one can now visit comfortably while I'm busy in the kitchen. My Firefighter sat and read to the girls and I pottered around getting dinner thinking how cute it all was.

The cuteness ended partway through dinner when My Firefighter fell ill. He left and got home just in time to vomit. It wasn't my food, but either exhaustion and the result of a week of terrible food, often cold meat sandwiches a day or two old, or a touch of the food poisoning "flu" going around. He's better today, thankfully, but we'd been looking forward to seeing each other and it was cut short. The worst part for him was worrying that he'd brought illness into the house and that the girls would get sick. I'd pretty much figured it was food poisoning so I wasn't worried about the girls, but about him.

From Air Attack 17: Looking east across the northern zone of the King Fire on Sept. 26 at 08:30am. Image courtesy Todd White

Thursday, September 25, 2014

King Fire Update

This fire has made history! At 8,002 personnel, it's the largest number of resources on a wildfire ever! It's now covering 95,347 acres and 43% contained. That's larger than the cities of Atlanta, Portland or Las Vegas. Today was the day of starting demobilization, the organized release of some resources (personnel and their equipment), however, some will be released to go to another fire that was started by human means yesterday afternoon by Lake Tahoe's south shore near Emerald Bay.

The good news is that there is a light rain currently falling over the King Fire area and, mostly likely, on the Cascade Fire, too. As long as the winds stay calm, firefighters can make very good progress in conditions like these. The King Fire did cross the lines where My Firefighter was last night, but they beat it back into submission.

Yesterday, the task force My Firefighter is on got showers for the first time in 4 days! They also got their first hot meal in 4 days. Up to now, they've relied on helicopter drops for "box" lunches that are frequently quite nasty. The fire is so large that it's divided into two command zones. The northern zone is run by the feds and the southern zone by the state. The state treats their firefighters much better than the feds. They get the camps and amenities set up sooner and have a better over all command. The feds finally started catching up yesterday, but today it's raining and My Firefighter and all the men who were on night duty last night and are serviced by the same spike camp, are out in the rain, trying to sleep. That's right - no tents, no sleeper trucks. He also lost cell phone reception but managed to get a message through to me on another cell phone with a different service provider, but that's now down, too. He did say they managed to get a roll of plastic from somewhere and were scrounging up some duct tape to rig something so they can set up their cots and sleeping bags and get some sleep without getting rained on.

This is a seriously rugged job! Imagine working all night on the fire line, which is seriously hard labor, then coming back to camp and having to sleep outside in the rain.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kitten Caper

I think it's amazing how Apple managed to get a kitten since they are still a little skittish, but she is the one in there the most with them.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Good Question

A commenter asked: "What happens if all these firefighters are in the woods, what happens if there is a fire in town? Do they have additional firefighters?

Yes, they have additional firefighters. Sometimes the station is left empty, though it's rare or for a short period of time, and another station covers the area, but usually, they call people up from off duty. In this case, my firefighter and all the men on his strike team were called in from off duty so the station staff didn't change. If the men on duty at the station are sent out, as happened on the last fire since the regular engine was needed, versus the brush rig that the men took to this fire, then the regular station staff go and more staff are called in to replace them, but for that time, the station area is covered by another station.

For example, I was out doing yard work when I saw the engine leave the station across the street. After awhile, I saw cars, each with one man, pulling into the station gate and realized it'd been a good hour and the engine hadn't returned. After the fourth car pulled in, I knew they'd restaffed the station. They will use a substitute engine or the OES rig that's based there. When I came inside after doing my yard work, I was able to see that my firefighter had been mobilized.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

King Fire

The girls and I are tracking another fire. My Firefighter was mobilized today to a huge fire burning between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento, called the King Fire. It was started by an arsonist, who is now in jail. When we were at Shriner's Hospital Northern California last Wednesday, we saw the pyrocumulus cloud from the fire as it went insane and nearly tripled in 12 hours, to over 17,000 acres. These aren't called forest fires in fire terms, that's for us lay people. These are called wildland fires.

He's part of a 4 man crew on a brush rig, part of a strike team, meaning he's "playing chicken with the fire." Until I met him, I never realized what these firefighters go through on wilderness fires. First off, they are called for up to two weeks straight. They could be on 12 or 24 hour shifts. They often sleep under the stars in sleeping bags, sometimes on cots, in super smoky air with mosquitos biting them, and, in the mountains, even in summer, it can be quite cold at night - or too hot. If they are lucky, there are sleeper trucks; large semi trailers with 50 bunks stacked three high. They use their sleeping bag and their own pillow, if they remembered to bring one, on the beds.

However, one must be in from duty early to get one of these, or it's out under the stars. Last time, too many trailers left before hundreds of men were demobilized and the men had to camp out in a school yard.

Showers are few and far between. Again, a semi trailer full of shower stalls is brought in to base camp and the lines are long. At the front of the line, the men are handed a large towel, that's paper, to dry off with. Believe me, they are grateful to finally get that shower. Sometimes, they are put up in camping cabins or even hotels or motels, but usually the cheapest ones with pretty bad accommodations.

Food comes out of a truck, too. It's plentiful, but not the most healthy, mostly carbohydrates. It can be anything from "industrial" hotdogs, a soggy hotdog pre-wrapped and served by the hundreds, to steak and fried shrimp, to canned beans and rice. Lunch is a sack lunch, and believe it or not, often contains those disgusting Uncrustables. Hot breakfast, usually meat like bacon, and eggs. Men can gain weight on these jobs from all the carbs, but they don't go hungry.

Of course, there aren't bathrooms out in the forest, so it's a shovel and hole for the big stuff and behind a bush for the small stuff.

On the last fire, My Firefighter took up a water tender, a relatively safe job because they are situated at the fringes of the fire where engines come to refill their tanks. The tender could be parked near a water source, like a creek or stream, even a tiny one, where they temporarily dam up the water to make a pool deep enough to get their pump in, or they empty into the engine tanks, then leave and drive to their water source, refill, then come back to their designated station. Below, the water tender is dumping into their portable tank and a rig is drafting into their own tank. It was the night shift and quite busy since, with the drop in temperature and increased humidity of night, a fire may "lay down" and a lot of fire suppression progress can be made.

It's amazing what these people do and we don't even know it. For example, a tree trunk may burn through at the bottom of the trunk, and tree will fall down. It's called a snag. If the fallen part burns, there might not be a trace left. If the stump burns, it can burn down into the ground all the way to the roots, but the ground won't show this, and still be burning, so the firefighters walk with stick like a blind person's cane, testing the ground before each step, because someone can fall right into one of these holes, it's like falling into a super heated oven and no one will survive. There was one at a recent fire that was 15 feet deep!

A Little Cuteness Break

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Happy Family Day, Blossom

It's been two years now that Blossom has been home. She's been looking forward to her Family Day for a few months and had decided she wanted Chinese food, until I offered her the option of going to her favorite buffet. She was on her best behavior and we all enjoyed ourselves. We brought home helium balloons (latex) and let them go (we have acoustic ceilings so balloons pop in our house) and watched them fly away. All the girls LOVE doing this, but especially Blossom.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Harvest Moon Festival

We did celebrate the Harvest Moon Festival, but I didn't take any pictures since we were having so much fun.

My Firefighter had just returned from fighting a wildfire after being gone for a few days and we were glad to see him. We'd been tracking the fire and created our own tracking/command station which teaches the girls how to research information online, new vocabulary like perimeter and origin, and keeps us from worrying too much. Using the online satellite map sites, we could see the actual house where My Firefighter's team was posted. The fire came within 100 yards.

Anyway, he brought some great pizza for our dinner (Tuscan and Hot Hawaiian), then we all took a walk under the full moon. I explained the significance of the holiday to the girls, again, and said it would be a good time to think about their birth families, if they wanted to, which seemed very appropriate and they liked. We stayed outside and ate our moon cakes, then My Firefighter ran to the grocery store for the makings of root beer floats, which we enjoyed while watching The Far Side of Heaven on DVD.

All the Wild Bunch

Yesterday, we took our first real bike ride, where we actually took the bikes in the truck to a bike trail and cruised through town. The girls did very well. We've been going around the neighbor several times a week as our PE for school and were ready for something longer. We went about 6 miles total, with a rest, drink and snack at a park halfway through. Blossom and Jie Jie both took spills, but a band aid on one and a dusting off of the other was all the first aid needed. I pulled the trailer with our supplies, which included a cooler with our drinks and snack, first aid kit, pump (which we did use when Jie Jie's front tire picked up a goat head sticker) and a spare diaper for Apple) on the first half and switched bikes with my Firefighter for the second half. Jie Jie and her bike ended up in the trailer for the last bit of both halves when her little legs couldn't pedal her little bike any further. As the weather turns to fall and cools down, we'll be doing this as often as we can. We all had a great time!