Help, hospitality are nationwide
by Karen Kissiah Staff Writer
When a firefighter tells you something is tough, you can believe it with all your heart and soul.
Just like nothing can prepare you for the wondrous sight of the Giant Redwoods and Sequoias, nothing can truly prepare you for the obstacles one encounters fighting the raging wildfires of the western wilderness, said Allen Rabon and Roosevelt Seegars, of Sandhills State Forestry in Patrick.
Answering a request for help with various fires out west from the National Forestry Commission, the two of them passed their “arduous test” with flying colors, and flew out to Redding, California in early August. That test required them to walk three miles in 45 minutes with 45 pounds strapped on their back as preparation, or physical training. The arduous test for fighting forest fires in this part of the country, said Rabon, only requires one to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes with 25 pounds.
“But nothing prepares you for the altitude,” said Seegars. “Altitude makes a big difference.” The area they worked in is called Big Bar Country and is famous for legendary sightings of Big Foot.
Altitude, and accommodations, make a big difference. Rabon, 28, and Seegars, 50, are both experienced foresters and forest firefighters, but neither was completely prepared for the experience and knowledge gained on this trip. Rabon said he had helped with big fires in Georgia and other places before, but in those cases, when their shift was done a bus, or someone, was there to take them to a hotel. This was not the case in the wilderness of northern California, he said.
And making it even harder to deal with, often, dead standing trees left from previous forest fires, present a hazard. They are referred to as snags. “Fellers” are sent in prior to the firefighters in those situations to cut down the snags, preventing them from falling on people or from crossing fire lines that have already been put in place.
An old school bus, renovated to accommodate fire fighting equipment, was their chariot to one of the fires … as far as it could go. The fire, which was over the ridge, across a creek, and back up the other side, was still quite a hike from where the bus dropped them off, with 60 pound water packs on their back to help put out hot spots, said Rabon.
The renovated bus, and its 74 year old driver, then waited three days for the firefighters to return because they were “spiked in,” said Rabon. To be spiked in, he said, meant it was too dangerous to move. They had to camp where they were, with only the fire fighting equipment they had taken in; not camping equipment.
“Three days without a shower is tough,” said Rabon.
But not all was forsaken. Helicopters flew over the area and dropped food, water, and other supplies for the firefighters during the toughest days. On days when their crew was not so far into the wilderness, local businesses, and community organizations or churches from nearby towns, would send homemade lunches.
We were shown true Southern hospitality, both men said, a long way from home.
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, extension 224, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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