Working the fire as a journalist
At a cul-de-sac off Tramway Drive, I squeezed into a fire jumpsuit, plunked a hard hat on my head and followed a skinny, dull-yellow fire hose into the Heavenly forest.
Jittery from smokeless tobacco, I followed the hose down a dirt path because I sought a small chunk of a story that will be told by residents and visitors for years to come.
I was in search of noble people: Firefighters who stopped a 700-acre blaze dead in its tracks.
Their quick response, which included round-the-clock water drops from helicopters, air tankers and blistering work by hand crews, allowed homes and precious land to be saved.
The job they did was more appreciated because the fire started hours before Independence Day in a year already burdened by the terror attacks of Sept. 11.
I headed into the forest with William Ferchland, a colleague. He is a rookie to journalism, as I am, but has the heart of a veteran. Even more than I, he was determined to study the line of the fire and talk to a few of the men and women fighting it.
Once we reached the end of the dirt path, we found ourselves at the edge of Edgewood Bowl, a ski run at Heavenly. We spied red engines scattered near the tree line at the side of the run. The engines pumped water through 6,000 feet of hose straight up sides of the mountain.
Deep in the forest, firefighters worked to shore up the fire line, pounding at fiery roots and mixing water into the land.
The eastern edge of the fire, where we were, had burned a U-shape above the top of Boulder lift. Edgewood Bowl was still green but soggy from spent fire water.
The mountains all around Edgewood smoldered and smoked. Not in an alarming fashion, but almost as if the land had gotten a severe vapor rub and now was trying to cool off.
The charred land, known as Division X, occasionally flared, burning a bush or a downed log. Firefighters didn’t bolt to extinguish the flareups. Instead they worked to mop up inside the fire line.
Fire Capt. Bruce Lodge was in charge of the operation. One of his duties was to monitor water pressure to the hose. He used a radio to check on it as we talked to him, as if it were the vitals of a heart patient.
Lodge has fought fires since 1978, and doesn’t look any worse for the wear.
He said his team was excited as they drove north on Highway 395 to fight the Gondola Fire. It threatened homes and that always intensifies the work for firefighters, he said.
It also intensifies work for journalists. After I squeezed out of my bright yellow jumpsuit, one that left me hardly able to breathe, we drove straight to 7-Eleven for a Double Gulp and a Slurpee.
The drinks helped, but still didn’t cool us off. I sat in my chair writing until 10 p.m., fried from work of previous days, trying to get the work done so I could enjoy the weekend.
Ferchland went home, too tired to write, with a plan to finish his story on Saturday or Sunday.
If we were tired, just imagine how the firefighters felt.