Spearfish Lake Tales logo Wes Boyd’s
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

The Birdwatcher Hill Fire book cover

The Birdwatcher Hill Fire
Wes Boyd
©2009, ©2015

Chapter 12

The crew of Hoselton 2, the tanker truck, hadn’t really gotten started setting up the portable tank when Jay told them to hold off on it a bit since they were probably going to take it down to the anchor point for set up there instead. That meant that they were ready to move when Jay and Hoselton 7 appeared out of the cloud of smoke, and they wasted no time getting moving deeper into the thick smoke. They had just gotten the tank unfolded and water flowing out of the tanker when Hoselton 1, the pumper, showed up. The pumper parked next to the tank, and within seconds a draft line was dropped into the tank and a hose line was being run out into the bog.

Right about then, Jay was starting to have second thoughts about trying to run a wet line across the bog, at least in that spot. He’d already been out in the bog and knew it was tough going; he knew it was going to be a damn sight worse struggling through that soft stuff dragging hoses. There wasn’t a whole lot he could do about it now; they’d wasted a lot of time already, and the fire was getting closer. They were just going to have to make their stand here.

It was going to take a lot of water to really wet things down enough to stop the fire when it got to them, so the thing to do was to get some hoses run now, before things got really bad. “Run a two and a half inch line out as far as you can get it,” he ordered. “That’ll give us some reach.” He ordered some other firemen to run smaller lines more directly toward the fire, and to start soaking things down a ways toward the fire from the anchor point; there was no point in letting the fire burn right up to the fire line the grader had just cut. Within only a couple minutes Jay could hear the engine of Hoselton 1 drag down, indicating that the inch-and-a-half lines were working. Finally they were getting something positive done.

The smoke was very thick around the anchor point, and it was hard to breathe. In those situations, firemen usually use air from air-packs they carry on their backs, but those were only good for fifteen or twenty minutes and they didn’t have many of the tanks. “Try to get along without air packs the best you can,” he ordered. “If it gets too bad, you can use them for a fresh breath or two.”

Ray Millikan and Mike Trevetheck were out in the swamp, trying to lay out the two-and-a-half-inch line. The going was just as bad as Jay had expected it to be, and it was going very slowly. After five minutes they hadn’t even managed to get one full length of hose laid out, and dragging the hose was getting harder and harder, even with the help of some of the other firemen down in the bog. Even though the smoke was very thick, Jay was aware that it wasn’t going very well. They were going to have to do a lot better, and quickly, or they wouldn’t have the line wetted down enough by the time the fire reached them. There had to be some better way to get through the bog than just post-holing their way through. The snowshoes were an idea, and whether they would work even if some were to be found was an open question.

Jay was a logger, of course, like many of the Hoselton firemen. As luck had it, they were close to a grove of aspen, and the first thing that came to Jay’s mind was to cut some of the bigger ones and lay them out as a sort of plankway through the bog. That would mean manhandling the logs, and they’d have to be cut fairly short so they could be handled at all. Cutting them at all would be a problem, he realized. As far as he knew there were no chainsaws down at the anchor point, although it was possible one or more of the grass rigs might have them – he knew that Hoselton’s didn’t. There were a couple fire axes on the pumper, but they would be slow, especially knowing that even though there were a lot of loggers out there, not many of them really knew how to use an axe any more. It was a skill that had pretty much disappeared among them; Jay himself couldn’t remember the last time he’d used an axe to cut down a tree, if he ever had. When you got right down to it, he wasn’t all that familiar with a chainsaw any more, although he’d used one for years before the cutter-stripper had come along. In any case, it should be easily solved: he picked up the portable and called, “All grass rigs from C-3. Does anyone have a chainsaw with them?”

“Warsaw, negative.”

“Albany River, negative,”

The Spearfish Lake truck happened to be sitting next to him, and the guy with it didn’t bother using the radio. “No such luck,” the guy yelled over to him.

“Well shit,” Jay said, not on the radio. “I can’t believe we don’t have one fuckin’ chainsaw among four forest country grass rigs.” That Hoselton didn’t have one was just as unbelievable. Jay had an old one sitting in his garage at home – it started and worked pretty well, and as soon as they got back to Hoselton it was going to find a place on the grass rig, but that didn’t help them a damn bit now.

“C-3 from Birdwatcher Hill Command,” Clint’s voice came over the portable. “I’ve got Support 6 here and there’s a couple chainsaws. What do you need them for?”

“If you can get them down here, maybe we can corduroy something of a plankway through the bog,” Jay replied.

“Roger that,” Clint replied. “They’ll be on the way just as soon as we can dig them out.”

*   *   *

“I have to say,” Allen Halifax commented on hearing the exchange on the radio, “That I’m just as glad that I’m up here rather than down there.”

“Yeah,” Ryan agreed. The two of them were sitting in Randy’s truck, looking down on the fire scene and listening to the traffic on the radio. There wasn’t much else for them to do. “I’ve been in smoke like that and it’s no damn fun.” Just then, his cell phone rang. “I sure hope that’s news about Coopshaw,” Ryan commented as pulled it out of his holster and keyed it on. “Yeah,” he said into the phone.

“Ryan, this is Regina,” Randy’s secretary said. “I finally managed to get hold of Carl. It turns out that Bob had an accident about ten miles west of Three Pines. Uh, Ryan, I don’t know how to say this and I don’t know for sure what happened, but it was a fatal.”

“Oh, shit,” Ryan sighed. “Regina, I’m sorry to hear that. Are you sure?”

“All I know is that was what the sheriff told Carl when he called him. Carl is headed back this way to see Bob’s wife. He said the sheriff asked him to get a replacement heading this way. Someone’s coming, I don’t know who, but Carl said he won’t be any better with the grader than Randy is.”

“Well, I guess that’ll have to do,” Ryan said in a deflated tone. “Look, Regina, if you find out anything more about what happened, let me know, all right?”

“Sure, no problem,” she replied. “Sorry to have to tell you this, Ryan.”

“It had to be someone,” Ryan told her. “Keep me in touch, and thanks.”

After a few more words, Ryan ended the call and closed the cell phone. “That didn’t sound like good news,” Allen commented.

“It wasn’t,” Ryan told him. “Coopshaw’s dead. He had an accident on the way back here. Regina’s not sure what happened.”

“Aw, shit,” Allen agreed. “You going to tell Randy?”

“I about have to,” Ryan said. “Bob was one of his people after all. He deserves to know.” He took the microphone for the company radio, which had been silent since the last exchange several minutes before. “Randy,” he called. “If you’re busy, call me back when you can.”

“Not too bad right now,” Randy replied. “Any word on Bob?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Ryan told him. “I’m not clear on the details, but he had an accident on the way back here. He’s Code Blue.”

“Aw, shit,” Randy replied. “That’s the last damn thing Carol needs right now. That kid of theirs is giving them a snootful of trouble. I’d go see her, but I can’t leave right now. Get hold of Carl, tell him to go see her.”

“Carl is one step ahead of you on that; he’s on the way there now.”

“OK, good,” Randy replied. “I’d tell you to have Carl send Jerry Evernham out here, but I know he’s tied up at some doctor in Camden with his kid, doesn’t sound good. Guess I’ll have to make do.”

“According to Regina, Carl is sending someone from Three Pines to fill in for you if needed, but apparently Carl said that you’re just as good as he is.”

“Probably Keith Boyer or Hal Ferris,” Randy said. “Carl is probably right, too. Either one would do in a pinch, but I know what the deal is here and it’s probably best that I stay on it for now.”

“Roger that,” Ryan told him. “Let me know if there’s anything we can do to help.”

“Can’t think of anything right now but you’ll be the first to know if there is.”

*   *   *

Clint stepped out of Support 6 and headed for the back, where he knew the chainsaws were located. Since the Jeep was right next to him, he told the kids, “Got another run for you. Jack, come help me with this shit.”

Jack hopped out of the Jeep, and headed toward the back of the van. “What do you need?” he asked.

“I need you to run these chainsaws down to the anchor point on the fire line,” Clint told him. “Somewhere around where you picked up Ed, there’s been a fire line run deeper into the smoke. The anchor point is at the end of it. Be real careful when you’re in the smoke, drop this stuff off and get back up here.”

“Sure, no problem,” Jack told him, picking up one of the chainsaws as Clint set it out, and hauling it over to the Jeep, where Stas was asleep in the back seat.

Clint followed him with the other chainsaw, a bottle of bar oil and a can of gas. “Just a second before you go,” Clint told him, heading back to the front of the van. He got out the portable radio he had been carrying and handed it to Jack. “I hate to have you kids running around there without a radio, so here’s this. Your call sign will just be ‘Jeep’. I’m Birdwatcher Hill command, and Jay down at the anchor point is Hoselton C-3. Keep it on, but don’t use it yourself unless it’s an emergency.”

“Push this button to talk, right?” Jack asked, pointing.

“Right,” Clint told him. “Make this quick. I don’t want you kids down there in the smoke longer than necessary, and I think I’m going to have another run for you to make as soon as you get back.”

*   *   *

By now, the grader was south of the fire, cutting the fire line to the west, and getting set to turn the corner and head back to the north on the far side. Being slightly upwind of the fire they were out of the smoke for the most part, except when a little wind shift might push some of it toward them. When it did, the smoke wasn’t nearly as thick here as it had been farther north. That meant that Randy and Chad could risk running a little closer to the fire than they had back around the side of the fire, although they stayed far enough away to not risk getting flanked if the fire happened to flare up a little. They’d just gotten started on the fire line, but things were going well – except for the news about Coopshaw.

Randy put the microphone for the company radio back on the hook. It was a damn shame about Bob, he thought. He was a good guy and really knew his stuff. He was going to be missed, and not just today. The only other person who could get the kind of work out of the grader that he could was Jerry Evernham, who had run it for years. Well, Jim Wooten could do about as good a job, but he was needed as the superintendent of the steel building crew and was out of town at the moment, too. The long-range problem was that Jerry and Jim were supervisors and had other things to do besides run machinery. Whether Boyer could pick it up, or whether they would have to hire an experienced grader driver somewhere else was an open question, and one that he didn’t need to think about today. Once this had settled down and Jerry was back, they could talk about it, along with perhaps some cross-training. Until then, Randy knew he was going to have to concentrate on what he was doing here.

*   *   *

Like her husband, Jackie was six feet tall, which meant that she could stand on Rocinante’s wheel and reach the gas caps without a stepladder. Mark and Jackie had long been in the habit of topping off the Cessna’s gas tanks as soon as they got back from flying, before they put the plane back in the hangar again, because full gas tanks kept condensation water in the tank to a minimum.

It was no different this time. Topping off the tanks only took a few minutes. With that done, they pushed the plane back into the hangar, and closed the door. Jackie thought about going back to the sign she had been working on earlier, but since it was getting close to lunchtime, she thought better of it. She’d no more than get settled in before she would have to break for lunch. It wasn’t as if she had to make lunch for the girls since they were perfectly capable of doing it themselves. But, while Bree could be counted on to make herself a healthy, balanced lunch, she knew Becca would gripe if Bree made lunch for her – she ran more toward chips with peanut butter and jelly. On the other hand, if Becca made PB&Js for them, Bree would bitch about it. She couldn’t win, and the only way to avoid bitching from one or the other of the girls was for her to make it herself.

There were some hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator, she thought. A little tuna, some mayo, some chopped lettuce and a little effort would make a fine tuna salad. That would make a reasonable compromise lunch that both of the girls would eat even if it wasn’t exactly their favorite food. How simple life had been, she thought, before she and Mark had become instant parents a couple years before! Not that she minded; she liked the girls and they filled a hole in her life that she hadn’t realized had been there, but sometimes they were a pain in the neck, too. Well, she revised her thought, make that a lot of a time.

The two of them headed on into the house. Jackie could hear the “beep-beep-beep-BOOM” of whatever video game it was that Becca was playing on the X-box. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Becca had spent most of the summer with it, but the sound was all too familiar. At least getting out for basketball practice once a day and playing volleyball with her friends was helping with that a little. To no one’s surprise, Becca had turned into a pretty good at basketball and volleyball – something else that Bree had no talent or interest in – but that meant Jackie had spent a lot of time sitting in the bleachers over the last year. It was something she had never bothered with when she’d been in school. There was likely going to be more of it to come, since Spearfish Lake had a very good girls’ basketball program, and the coach didn’t let any talent slip past her. More bleacher butt, Jackie thought

It didn’t take a great deal of time to get the sandwiches thrown together. “Becca, Bree!” she called. “Let’s eat!”

She looked up and saw Bree coming out of the bathroom, with hair freshly combed, as the beeping and booming from the X-Box paused. “Get something to drink,” she told the girls. Predictably, Becca got a Coke, while Bree got a glass of milk.

“So,” Becca asked as she sat down at the kitchen table, “how was the fire?”

“Pretty good,” Bree said. “It’s real big, and it put out a lot of smoke. Aunt Jackie let me fly most of the way out there and back. How was your game?”

“Oh, about the same,” Becca grumbled. “It’s getting boring. I almost hate to say it, but I’m actually looking forward to being back in school and having the volleyball season going.”

“Ugh,” Bree said. “Volleyball, now that’s boring!”

Privately, Jackie tended to agree with Bree on that one. Although she’d been the tallest girl in her high school class, she’d never had the slightest bit of interest in or talent for basketball, volleyball, or any other sport, and she didn’t have much now, although she couldn’t say that around Becca. She took the diplomatic route: “Bree, how would you know?” she asked. “You’re the one who takes a book to the games.”

“Well, yeah,” Bree admitted. “I’ve never found a book that’s less interesting than a volleyball game. Even War and Peace.” Bree was a reader, no doubt about it. The deepest that Jackie had ever been able to make it into War and Peace was about the third page.

There was no point in having to mediate this hassle for the thousandth time, Jackie thought. Thousandth? No, way more than that. “I think they’re going to have their hands full fighting that fire,” she said, searching for a neutral topic. “When we flew over it, the fire crews hadn’t even been able to make it back to the fire yet.”

“Is it going to be one of those things like we see on TV?” Becca asked. “I mean, where you have TV reporters and all, and there’s thousands of acres burned?”

“No, nothing like that,” Jackie said. “I don’t think it’s going to be that big a fire. It’s out in the middle of nowhere; there aren’t any houses to burn nearby or anything like that. I doubt there’ll be anything on TV about it at all. There’ll probably be a story in the Record-Herald this week, and that’s about it.”

“Well, darn,” Becca said. “It would have been neat to have seen it. You don’t suppose you’ll be going out there again so I could ride along this time?”

“Probably not,” Jackie said. “There’s no real reason to.”

“Darn,” Becca pouted, the disappointment obvious. “Guess you got lucky on that one, Bree. I guess I’ll just have to spend the afternoon with the X-box. Again.”

“Yeah,” Bree smirked like she’d stolen candy from her sister. “I guess I got lucky on that one.”

Oh, what the hell, Jackie thought. Becca is probably going to be pouting all afternoon over that. It’s not like it’s that hard to roll Rocinante out again and spend a half hour or so flying out there with her. It’s too nice a day to be inside, anyway. “Oh, all right,” she said, realizing that she’d lost a round to the girls again. “Let’s finish our lunches, then I’ll take Becca out for a look while Bree can stay back and re-read War and Peace.”

*   *   *

Still well to the east of Three Pines, Tom Dunning was driving toward the fire quickly. He wasn’t speeding – well, not a lot, anyway – but he was moving right along with an hour gone, but still more than an hour to get there. This was a fool’s errand, he thought. He really ought to be heading the other way, to Hansen Lake where there was a real fire that had to get dealt with. He hadn’t heard anything about the Spearfish County fire since he left the office, but from what he knew from the office it really wasn’t that big a deal. Even if it was, the DNR involvement in it was going to be minimal for the foreseeable future, so there really wasn’t much he was going to be able to do except to be an observer. Hell, by the time he got there, they might even have the fire out. That was going to mean much of the day was wasted.

He couldn’t help but wonder what was going on there, anyway. The curiosity finally got to him; he pulled out his cell phone and called his boss, Andy, at the DNR office. “Just wondering if you had any update on the situation in Spearfish County?”

“Not really,” Andy replied. “Haven’t heard much for a while, and the last I heard was that the local crews had just gotten back to where it’s burning. There’s definitely a peat bog involved, so I don’t think they’re going to get it out very soon.”

“How fast is it spreading?”

“I’m not sure, there hasn’t been any comment on it. Apparently not very fast or they’d be yelling for help even more than they are. I need to get a good reading on it from you.”

“I’m still an hour out at least,” Tom told him. “And once I get there it’s going to take a while to get a handle on it.”

“Well, get a real good reading on it. The situation has changed a little. Hansen Lake has gotten worse, we’re going to have to call on the Multi-State Compact to get crews to it. There’s no way in hell we can throw anything at Spearfish County now, at least for a while to come. I’d say try to get them to accept a let burn if you can. Otherwise, they’re going to have to fight it with local resources all the way.”

“They’re not going to like hearing that,” Tom observed.

“I can’t help whether they like it or not. We haven’t got anything to give them, not with the situation at Hansen Lake. If they want to fight it out on Clark land with local resources, I guess we can’t stop them. But just looking at the direction I heard the fire seems to be moving it’s heading mostly onto state land, and we’ll have to advocate a let burn, no matter what Clark tells the governor.”

“I can understand that, I guess, but I don’t want to be the one to have to tell them that.”

“Can’t help it,” Andy said. “You’re the one there and elected. Check in again before you get there, then find out the real status, then let me know before we make a decision. If they’re gaining on it we won’t pull the plug on them, but they’re going to be a long time putting out a peat bog fire.”

<< Back to Last Chapter - - - - Forward to Next Chapter >>
To be continued . . .

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.