Stoker coasted the Ward down the airfield to the upwind side|
to gain full benefit of the clearing
winds rushing in to feed the
fire on the mountain slopes above them. Roy parked the squad
to him and the whole gang filed out.
It looked like a warzone. Yellow coated national forest firefighters
lay whereever they had dropped to nap the sleep of the totally
exhausted in any available space
they could find. On the backs
of filling pumpers, along roadside guardrails and on the bare ground
in between fueling trucks. Dixie was already at camp with her army
of nurses, still in her white
hospital uniform and cap. She was
going from man to man, as all the Rampart nurses were, to be sure
that each fighter was well watered and not hiding injuries from
their commanders just to suit
a "being macho" image that so many
of them carried like badges.
Dixie waved at Station 51 that
she could see across the field
and they waved back as they reported in to the incident command
set near a row of airplane hangers.
Roy announced his squad's status as being free and available
paramedics by flinging all the gear doors on the squad wide open
with a pair of empty stokes
set up vertical against the front bumper.
They'd be running on visible cues only from the others
in camp until
they knew what radio frequencies units were assigned to for medical
A minute passed but not one firefighter or support
crew flagged them down. DeSoto thought perhaps
it would take
a while for word to spread that a paramedic unit was on the field.
After getting the word, the gang got one each from their rings |
of twin ID jacket tags turned into
the clipboard crew at the head table.
They cast their eyes about for familiar faces. Johnny soon located
one in an old man, a civilian, sitting with his white german sheperd in
a large green wooden lawn
chair on top of an old battered pickup truck.
"Graben! What the heck are you doing here? Guys,
this is Graben Joergg.
He's a retired horse trainer who helps me get chores done around the place
whenever I'm away at work in the city..."
"Hiya Johnny boy. Hi fellas. Nice to meet you finally
so I got faces to put
with all the names. This here's Snowflake." he said, stroking the head of
beautiful white dog who lay panting in his lap. The dog's weight didn't
seem to bother the old man
at all. "He's Johnny's right hand dog whenever
he's riding back into the scrubland to check on the
wild horses ranging
up there." he said, pointing a gnarled sun freckled finger up at the burning
ringing them. "And before ya ask. Yes, the ranch is still there. And yes,
Command's using your pond
to get their water buckets filled. Your waterhole's
pretty much drained already." and Graben began
to chuckle with a throaty rasp.
"The water level's so low that the copters pass out of sight as they
into the basin for a water pickup. Quite a sight. So far, just the sky cranes
using it. "
"I'll fix that with a quick radio report once we get our incident HTs from the
crews. They're being calibrated to our new call sign and the rest of
the four stations with our assigned
unit." Gage smiled. "Where's Kehayke?"
"Your aunt's around here somewhere, feeding the boys. She says |
your wild horse ranch band's taken
off for the high country. I was gonna go
find them to make sure they skiddaddled but these fireboys
said no one not a homeowner's allowed up there, because of the fire."
right." said Cap in a no nonsense tone of voice. "You'd
be best staying put." he said, petting the
relaxed white dog gently.
"Doesn't the caretaker house we stay in count, Johnny? We don't own
but we live there.." asked Graben.
Gage started making denial noises but then the need for
truth got the best
of him. "It's possible to return. But only with a fire crew going with you. As
your boss, I can order you to stay in camp.."
"Not your aunt, Johnny. You can't order her without
the police to back you
up. She's family. And I know about family. Cause they're visiting me right
now. My boy and my grandson."
The gang drifted away from Gage to give him a little privacy.
"You mean they're still at the ranch?" Johnny said with dismay.
"Yeah, where else are they supposed
to go? Besides them four
fire stations are surrounding them real nice like. I don't know how ya
it getting em to come but that was smart thinking, boy. They're doing
a real fine job clearing space
around the buildings. I'm going because
she's going and that's that." he protested.
threw up his hands. "Ok, you're right. I guess I can't convince
you two not to go back up there. But
promise me you'll listen to the fire
crews and stick with them, ok? Tell Kehayke to forget about
horses. H*ll they're mostly wild already after being loose all spring and
They've more sense than firefighters do when fire's a factor.
They'll get to safety on their own.
Promise me that you two will just evacuate
the horses in the barn."
"I will, but it'll be harder
convincing your aunt to promise that.
She worries about those wilder horses of yours more than her
sometimes. And you know that for a fact. "
A shout from Cap got his attention.
"Look Graben, I gotta go. Looks like we're
finally getting our situation report. I'll try to swing
an excuse to get up there
and help ya, ok? Don't do anything stupid."
"Like I would.." laughed
Graben. "I'm old enough to be your grandfather."
Johnny had to grin and he put on the helmet he'd
been holding as he jogged
away to the forested clearing Cap and the others had gathered in.
Snowflake whined as the paramedic moved away. "Hush, Snow. He'll be all|
right, that one. It's his
aunt we need to worry about. " he said rising to
his feet. "Come on, let's go find her and deliver
Johnny's message, ok?"
The old man and the white dog left for the food trailers.
Captain Stanley was already meeting with a fire jumper fresh out
of the surrounding forest. Gage
wandered up in time to hear the core of
"....This monster's already straining the
firecamp's resources to the
breaking point and beyond..." said the sooty firefighter. "Usual and
procedures are going out the window, captain, not by design, but because way too
is happening in way too many places and way too fast, sir." he said.
Then he leaned forward to all
the gang and whispered. " I really don't think
Incident Command is able to grow personnel fast enough
requirements on the fire line. I've heard of way too many guys who're being
pull out and retreat, even before they've had a chance to backburn
Johnny grew immediately
uneasy and cast worried eyes in the direction
of the mountain slope where his ranch lay. "How about
Bear Claw Canyon?
What's happening there?"
"Don't know, medic. I haven't heard. Communications
have been as patchy as
getting immediate supply and water support. Sorry." the man shrugged. "All
I need to know is that the guys from my unit are getting their *ss*s kicked.
We've three on the injured
list already. Do me a favor medic, keep an ear
out for Task Force 1117 Beta. That's me. If you get
a Code I, come running.
I want no one dying today.." said the man , getting more and more agitated.
His rising stress and anxiety began to prey on 51's gang.
Hank put an immediate halt on that
effect. "Hey mister, take it easy. We'll do
everything we can paramedic wise. That'll be one resource
that won't fizzle
out on you and your crew. Ok? I'm personally overseeing that no one within
miles of me goes without treatment. Just remember that this whole thing's
workable. Eventually you'll
get to the backside of the thermal curve, the fires'll
die down, the winds'll abate. The trick is
to just get through it, event by event.
Just protect yourselves and your equipment, and, when you get the chance, |
make things better one
small piece at a time. This blaze can't burn forever.
There's not enough fuel in the world to keep
it going once it reaches the lowlands
for I know this whole part of the county's been lumbered to
death wherever it
was flat enough for trucks and crews to reach."
The exhausted dirty firefighter
shook Captain Stanley's hands in gratitude.
"Thanks, again, sir. We'll be watching for you and your
he said, returning to his crew heading for the rest and recovery station
the roving nurses.
Hank sighed as the newly issued walkie talkies they carried expressed a
wide update. ##....Strong Santa Ana conditions will drive predicted
daytime temperatures above 90F
leading up to the fire. In addition, humidity is reported
down to single-digits, and 40 mi/h westerlies
are blowing from the desert toward the coast.
Results are mass ignition, rapidly-moving fire, and
extreme fire behavior, including large
fire whirls. All elements of the fire triangle are present
and at high levels, still classified :
Firestorm. This is Incident Command weather bulletin for 1900
Cap tuned out the rest of the broadcast. Mike Stoker folded his arms and started
rubbing his chin.
"Uh, oh. Stoker's pondering again, guys. I don't think I like seeing that."
Mike proved him flawless in feel. "Hmm, releve' seventeen... That mountain..." he
pointing in the direction of Johnny's canyon and ranch. "..has got a 90%
chaparral cover. Steep canyon walls and approaching
Santa Ana wind conditions. Fuel's dense on the
ground, with dried out chaparral
available in large quantities in the inland valleys and foothills."
"What the heck is chaparral, Stoker? Sounds like an aftershave." said Lopez.
then his face fell into a quiet seriousness. "Chaparral is a fire-adapted
bush, part of what fire
ecologists call "fire climax" ecosystems. Its ground fuel does
not naturally rot or otherwise disappear
like other vegetation. It doesn't deplete
until a wildfire takes place and the shrub's growing cycle
can start again from seed."
Roy asked the unspoken question. "What does Bear Claw Canyon consist
"96 % Chaparral on firecrew inaccessible slopes." he said softly.
The gang fell silent,
growing scared for Gage.
Johnny mumbled. "So that's why my ranch's red on the map, huh?"
"Yeah, sorry. Chaparral's an indicator species I can't ignore in all
"So I bought
my new home on the range right smack in the middle of a
giant tinderbox. That's just terrific...No
wonder it was so cheap."
"Look on the bright side, Johnny,.." said Chet. "After
the fires move
through. The grass'll grow back real lush enough for all your rehabilitated
"That's if I have a ranch left with which to manage them." growled Johnny.
Kelly moused down
and swallowed hard under Johnny's irritated gaze.
The whole station was galvanized when there came a call from|
Beta 1117 direct.
that the fire jumper's unit?" asked Marco as they all ran
back to the fire trucks.
like the fire's playing more than a little hard for those
boys. DeSoto, Gage. This one's a medical.
Get on it." Cap said as
he listened to his command HT's channel.
"Right, Cap." And soon, there
was no more time for worry.
Squad 51 pulled up at a group of outbuildings on the shore of
a river. The far side was engulfed
in flames and completely hostile
to human life.
Roy and Johnny pulled up and got out their
gear when they spotted
a couple of Type II firefighters huddled on the ground, giving oxygen
another one who was just starting to move.
"What happened here?" asked Roy.
"We had to
abandon our spike camp.." said the firefighter at the
gasping man's head. "Jerry here was a little
slow getting into
the water during our escape. We swam across. I think he got a
lungful of vacuum
when the trees exploded. His tank ran out."
"Crown fires are air hogs. Was he unconscious long?"
"Nah, started breathing right away when we got him out of the
river. Our main concern
is a check for super heating or not. His
chopper's on the way."
Gage nodded and started talking.
"Jerry? Can you hear me? Can
you breathe ok or do you think you need a little help?" he said,
a hand on the firefighter's chest to feel for any bubbling
vibrations through his clothes.
just moaned incoherently and flung a hand over his face.
The fireman at his head pressed the oxygen
mask a little tighter
over his nose and mouth.
"He vocalizing, Roy. Seems any heat didn't get
Johnny said. "But a little epinephrine will get him pink again
faster. I'll call for
Gage lifted up the biophone to the fire camp's doctor and|
got his medication order okayed.
gave Jerry the shot into the fat of his hip and rubbed it
in. Then he fell to monitoring the man's
improvement when it came.
DeSoto crouched to pull off the rest of the man's clothes to look
burns when he noticed a silent but very closely hugging fire captain
watching their every move. "Captain?
He's fine. He's now moving air
enough to know he's uncomfortable. That's a good sign. Looks like
don't even need that ambu." Roy smiled. Then he stuck out his
hand, taking the young fire captain's
dirty one into a handshake.
"Station 51. I'm DeSoto. That's Gage."
"Mitch Reed with San Bernadino
County Station 286. Thanks for
coming out so fast. Our engine doesn't have much past resuscitation
gear in the way of medical equipment. We're strictly a brush
"He won't be needing much
care, Cap." Johnny affirmed as he listened
to Jerry's chest and slowly got some words out of the
"I'm just seeing some light burns and blisters on his neck and shoulders.
around the mouth and nose. Looking better and better, Roy."
Beneath his hands, Jerry coughed and
his co-firefighter raised his
head onto his lap and held his head still. "Hey, bronco man! Rise
shine. Guess who's bailing our butts this time. 51's all the way
from Los Angeles County. That's from
half way across the state, man.
Do you believe it?" he crowed.
Jerry actually started smiling.
"Cap, do for them, o-kay. We owe em.
*choke* I'm feeling pretty alive here." and he shivered. "And
Anyone got a blanket?"
Five of Jerry's crewmates peeled off their jackets to cocoon
When Jerry was safely evac'd out of the fire zone to a receiving |
hospital, Captain Mitch Reed sought
out Roy and Johnny as they put all
their squad equipment away. "Say, fellas, I'm here to make good
a promise I made for Jerry so he'd ship outta here without starting
a riot act. Uh,,.. is there
anything that I can do for you two? Arrange
meals for your crew at a local restaurant? Get you to
from a grateful homeowner?"
"Nothing, Cap. Thanks. We just got here this evening
and we just
"Come on, fellas. Anything. I know how scarce you paramedics are
for the 14,000 firefighters working this fire." said Captain
Gage's mouth flopped open.
"Yep. From as far away as Montana and Washington state. How do
like them apples?" and the yellow helmeted man began to laugh
uproariously. "Seems you boys haven't
been filled in on all the details
"No, we haven't. Just a forest jumper's general weather
report." Roy frowned.
"Sorry for that. I thought you boys knew. Sixteen are dead already. Several
of them firemen. So what do you say? Name it and I'll get it for you."
Johnny's eyes thought hard
for a moment and then a slow crooked smile
lit his face. "What's your pull with the chopper crews
in the area?"
Roy smacked his shoulder for asking.
Reed glanced at the both of them in
puzzlement. "I'm their message
courier now that we've been pulled off the fire lines for being down
"Good. Here's the favor I think you can give and it'll mean a whole lot
Roy smacked him again.
"I mean me.." Johnny corrected. "I got this ranch, you see, in Bear
Reed grimaced. "Ooo, you mean the one where there's only four fire stations|
looked askance at him. "Uh,..there's soon gonna be five in less than
an hour if I have any say in
"Oh, I see. You want me to divert a chopper to save your place when the
on because my voice is the one in authority? Consider it done,
51. As one grateful fireman to another.
We can't get gifts from those
we serve and in your case, treat, so I guess it's up to us to give to
other in my line of thinking. And apparently in yours, too." he laughed.
"Just give the word.
I'm on Tach 5, 101.8. I know that ranch. Choppers have
been going there for water the last two hours."
"Sure appreciate it, captain." said Gage, getting into the squad.
"My pleasure.." said Reed,
and he waved as he walked away.
Roy had finally come to terms with Johnny's machinations and he
only shook his head ruefully. "You're a lot gutsier than I ever
thought you could be, junior."
"How's that?" said Johnny, buckling himself in.
"First, you con the chief himself to use your
ranch as a base
"I had water, remember? That's rare in these parts, Roy.
to offer an option when I knew about it. "
DeSoto didn't seem to hear him. "Then you
stretch those overtaxed
resources even further by trying to pull a chopper off his route
the fire line by taking advantage of another guy who is
still an acting superior. All captains are."
"Soo." said Gage, grinning. "He offered. I took it. No big deal."
"It is a big deal when other
lives might be on the line and
needing that chopper."
"No fireman's that stupid to wait that long to get into that kind|
of trouble, Roy. Doesn't our training
as firefighters amount to
anything? Even if we totally lose Command frequencies, we
should be able
to read this fire and deal with it as it comes and
besides, Stoker's not the only one good with numbers.
been doing a little calculating on a few facts myself. Even if all
those choppers and tankers
flying around out there hit their mark
one hundred percent of the time, they would still only hypothetically
be able to contain only thirty percent of this fire." he said smugly.
"It's just grown too big, Roy,
for air support alone to contain.
Ground crews are gonna be the key in this blazing inferno as they
any other forest fire. So no, I don't feel a bit guilty for grabbing a bird
crane off an
effort I know will be an act of futility in itself in the end."
Roy stared at Johnny, unblinking
for long seconds, in utter amazement,
until driving needed his full attention when the road back to
Fire Camp curved on him. "You never cease to surprise me, Johnny.
You do think things
"Have I ever not done that?" asked Johnny stretching with pure
satisfaction in his
"I'm claiming the fifth amendment.." Roy answered honestly.
Dixie smiled and came to meet their squad when it got back
with two very very welcome bottles
of water. "Are you sure
you boys don't want some coffee? I got some chilling in a thermos
"Water's good." said Roy, gratefully draining his.
"So how did it go? I heard
your voice over the doctor's
radio calling for IM epi." McCall asked.
"Piece of cake. He was
practically awake and all the way
breathing by the time we got there. Nothing that a good hot
and a solid night's sleep won't cure." Gage said.
"That and a few bandaids." DeSoto added.
"Huh?" Gage sputtered.
"You're forgetting Jerry's spark branding."
"Oh, yeah. He had a
few face, neck and shoulder blisters, Dix.
It'll be good for dragging sympathy out of his wife or
Roy glared at him. "Or for dragging out a good long fight for
her being reminded
of his being in such a high risk job."
Johnny frowned. "You and Joanne fight about your job?"
"All the time. But my love for it wins out. Needing money
really helps my end of the argument.
And her love for me
let's me stay doing it for the price of a disagreement or two
whenever I get
"Is it worth it?" Gage asked warily.
to fix a studying cautious stare at Roy.
"I hate picking fights. I never win at em. Unless they're
a one, fireman Chet Kelly." he grinned.
Dixie chuckled. "Say, Johnny. Do you need help
at the ranch? I
ran into a Graben Jeorgg about an hour ago. Said he was
heading up there with your
aunt to fetch his son and grandson."
"Is there a problem we don't know about?" Roy asked reading the|
guarded expression on Dixie's face.
"Yeah, high command's practically ordered the evacuation of all
fire personnel from the mountain
except for the four stationed on
your property. They're gonna try to hold onto that water supply
as long as they can."
Johnny took off for Engine 51 at a dead run, looking for Cap.
cajoled, pleaded, argued and begged, until Captain Stanley
hunkered over to the Command tables to
get orders to report in
earlier with their assigned task force currently stationed at the ranch.
Dixie took advantage of Roy's equally rattled state and joined them.
Station 51 headed down the highway. Ten minutes later, Roy screeched
to a halt when the looming
ghost of a burned falling tree suddenly
fell onto the road ahead of them.
The gang got out
and put on their scba masks in the heavy smoke
and stood there helplessly as they considered their
But right then, none other than Captain Mitch Reed melted from out|
of the trees with a team of axemen.
"Hang tight. Save your air.
We'll get you through." And he winked at Johnny. Not spilling the beans
at all about their chopper deal. "If you see fresh fire from the top of
that ridge to the west, don't
worry. We're firing up there to start a backburn
on the edge of that slope, hoping to keep the fire
from descending into
"Good luck." said Hank. "Appreciate the breakout captain."
"No problem." he said and soon he had his men clearing the road.
Station 51 arrived at Johnny's
ranch without any further delays.
They met up with the other four fire stations already camped
with laid fire hoses. They were concentrating on clearing the brush
and back burning pure scorch
around the buildings and horse corral.
Johnny frowned. "Graben's not here yet? The work horses
are not out
of the barn it seems. The corral's still empty."
"Maybe he thought better of coming."
"No, I'm sure he's coming. He promised Snowflake a dish of canned
Rival when he
got here." Dixie countered.
"Don't know what to tell ya, partner. Let's just see what we can do."
Roy said finally as he turned off the squad's motor at the edge
of the pond for protection.
said Johnny nervously. The two paramedics and nurse
Cap went to the other four captains
for his situation report. Johnny
told Hank that he and Dixie were going to scope out the barn and
release the horses to the range.
Hank nodded. "Stay on radio.." he said, lifting his. Then
to listening to Station 124 with the latest.
The lieutenant was filling in for his captain who was overseeing|
yet another water drop a half mile
away from the lake through
binoculars. The pond had long since been drained away
too shallow to
utilize with the Erickson air cranes. "..The hill falls
away in front of us to the south, where the
fire is coming from, rather steeply.
We had a ridge road in front of both of our fire lines for a
then we discovered that the wind's blowing very lightly out of the west.
that we can wait until that spot fire's closer, when it's clearly
going to burn through us before
firing the ridge around the houses. Then, in
stages, starting to the east, we plan to fire the grassy
slope in front of us.
That way the two fires will burn towards each other using up all the bush
fuel to black before the big line gets here."
"This is your call. I'm just a city slicker.." Stanley
The other stations were tied up om the ridge above 51 when the fire exploded
and advanced high speed towards Johnny's ranch.
Hank couldn't believe it but when he went out
and looked, the fire was on the ridge
across the canyon from him and had already spotted about half
way down the hill.
He radioed that their last hope was that the road below would hold it until the
backburning preventative work was done.
Gage had a much better view than the crews east
and west of him, so he called
and alerted them to the fire's advance. "Roy! I'm going in! Dixie stay
close to me.
Go to each stall, open it and step out of the way. If they don't want to run, slap
over the rump with a stick or something. Make sure it hurts."
"Got it.." said McCall.
The fire increased and then some of the large dead pines next to the barn|
started going off like
explosives. A whole tree collapsed and tumbled
into a barn window and ignited the hay loft.
shouted into his radio. "Johnny! Fire in the barn! Get out of there!"
Lopez wasn't sure that he had
been heard or whether or not Gage knew
the worst had happened. Lopez quickly informed Cap and soon
engines were relocated next to Engine 51 and hoses were directed onto
the new fire inside.
Hank shouted. "Hear from them yet?"
"No! I don't think they can hear me.." answered Marco.
As if in reply, several spooked horses darted out of the barn, narrowly|
missing the firefighters.
"That'd better be all of them.." grumbled Cap. Then he jogged over
to the engine and got on the
loud speaker. "Gage! Dixie! Abandon now!
Hay loft's ablaze!"
In support, Marco and another
firefighter positioned their hose streams
into the same open barn door from which the horses had
A crash of noise and a bright burst of flame from all the windows made
dash a little closer to the barn. The loft had fallen.
"Gage! McCall!" Cap continue to shout through
the loud speaker.
"Get out of there now!" His anger was fierce and almost as hot as
Finally, he hooked fingers at Chet and Roy. "Put your masks
on and get em out. Over your shoulders
screaming and kicking if you
have to. I'll deal with Gage later. Just see that I won't."
Click the doomed bridge|
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