Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Wildfire That Chased the Park Ranger - Part I

The Piney Fire was started by a lightning strike and crowned through the ladder fuels on the top of the mountain on evening of October 19, 1991.  Within days it had expanded to over 1,500 acres and several other fires were burning in the region fueled by drought and the dropping of dry leaves as the fall season progressed.  Fire lines that were scraped by hand crews were cover over by new fallen fuels within hours.  Additional firefighters were assigned to patrol the lines with leaf blowers trying to keep the fuel break clear down to mineral soil.

Existing fires and conditions were increasing to such a level that a Type I National Incident Management Team was brought in to organize what had become a Wildfire Complex with multiple operations spread along the Blue Ridge Parkway, The George Washington, and Jefferson National Forests.

On October 23rd I had already worked at fourteen hour day helping to coordinate National Park Service resources assigned to the fires as part of the management team.  I had gone up to the Piney Fire to walk fire lines and visit with Park Service Crews to check on their well being.  Just after dark and I was finally on my way home for the night when there was a report of a new fire near the Wintergreen Resort thirty seven miles north of my location on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Since I was the closest asset with a vehicle I volunteered to head north and locate the fire site.

As I drove north in the dark I strained my eyes to see the mountain slopes ahead looking for the tell tale signs of a fire.  The challenge was to travel as fast as I could while still keeping my vehicle on the road and watching for the ever present deer that seemed to enjoy springing out into the path of objects moving at high velocity.

Watch for Part II later this week......
In my fire gear while on a fire in Oregon in 1989

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