Another hot day at the office
Bruce Lodge and his California Department of Forestry strike team from Tuolumne and Calaveras counties were headed to a wildfire in Bishop, Calif., on Highway 395 when they heard Wednesday about the Gondola Fire.
The crew of 16 men and one woman had just arrived in Bishop and went into mop-up mode.
They received the order to head to South Lake Tahoe, about 200 miles from Bishop. They arrived at Heavenly Ski Resort around 11:30 p.m.
“When we got over the ridge in Gardnerville and saw the glow we got excited,” said Lodge, who serves as fire chief for the squad.
When they pulled into Heavenly’s base lodge headquarters on the California side, it gave them time to sleep during the night.
On Friday afternoon, the team was once again in mop-up mode, but this time at the northeastern head of the fire, which was smoldering and near containment from the help of 1,352 firefighters.
“It took us a while to figure out what was going on with the spots,” said Martin King, a fire apparatus engineer.
King was busy working the fire line by getting rid of dead brush and dousing hot spots with water and mixing it with dirt.
“We got to our objective which is not to let it get down the bottom drainage,” King said while looking at nearby houses on Heavenly’s Boulder Run. “We did well.”
But the fire wasn’t fully contained Friday afternoon.
Lodge didn’t wonder when his crew would be relieved. He thought about the task-at-hand, the safety of his comrades and the dangers of rolling rocks and falling tree limbs.
“We’re just at the discretion of management and the whims of Mother Nature,” he said, surveying the smoldering hot spots.
“There is a lot of bare ground out there and it skips around and finds the next available fuel,” he said.
Fire trucks were parked at the top of Boulder Run. The ground beneath the run was damp with mud spots and green foliage. Lodge said the access roads leading into the depths of Heavenly and the grass beneath the run aided him and his crew in building a fire line 300 feet wide.
Lodge called it a “significant depth.”
His radio, attached to his right breast, crackled with the report of a man walking his dog near the line. For safety reasons, the two were escorted out.
When speaking into his radio while a helicopter flew overhead, dousing flames with Lake Tahoe water, Lodge paused, then spoke when it was gone.
“It’s really loud. It’s very dangerous to be directly underneath a water drop,” he said. “The water is very heavy and can break stuff down. It’s also pretty cool.”
The crew worked careful during the night. The full moon that aids wildland firefighters was missed by just a couple of days when the Gondola Fire initially sparked.
That initial spark grew and charred 670 acres, the biggest wildland fire in recent memory. But to Lodge, a California Department of Forestry employee since 1978, it was just another day on the job.
“When we get done with an assignment and travel back, we often stop for dinner or lunch,” he said. “It’s not a time for celebration but a time to tell stories and wait for the next call.”
— Contact William Ferchland at (530) 542-8014 or firstname.lastname@example.org