Firefighters at Lincoln National Forest prepare for summer fires in an unusually quiet fire season marked by high winds and an ongoing drought.
Lincoln National Forest rises up from the desert, its tall pine trees swaying in the wind. It’s the wind and the ongoing drought that has Jay Northcott concerned.
“Right now, we’re very lucky that we haven’t had anything large,” said Northcott.
Northcott is the district fire manager for the Sacramento Ranger District. He’s in charge of close to 60 firefighters.
“We’re staying put because we could get something at any moment,” said Northcott.
The conditions also mean restrictions -- Jason Ramos makes sure visitors to the forest know about them.
“No campfires…no chainsaws after 10am…”
A group from Sul Ross University didn’t get the message about campfires so Engine 233 was called out.
“They came and right when it was done, so I thought the guys were coming for breakfast…”
Thomas was one of the campers here. He studies natural resources management. “Makes this more ironic”
When the forest is under the orange “very high” danger level, campfires aren’t allowed even in pits. The group was given a citation.
Chris Alirez is the captain of Engine 233.
“Wildland engines are what responds to this area and catch those initial attack fires…and if they’re not caught then you get to hear about the hotshots, the smoke jumpers.”
No matter what type of firefighter, engine, hotshot or smoke jumper – they all have to stay trained.
“It’s definitely worthwhile to stay in good physical shape,” said Alirez.
They carry around a 35-pound pack plus water and extra fuel.
The coats aren’t what you would see on a city firefighter. They are thinner to allow for moving quickly through the forest.
“Because it’s a lot of lifting, breathing moving…”
Alirez has been doing this for 11 years and he says he can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I think once fire gets in your blood, it’s something you’ll stick with. It’s tough, but it’s rewarding at the same time.
The largest fire this season was the Curtis Fire that covered more than 100 acres. That’s a relatively small one in the forest that covers 1.1 million acres.
As the wind continues to blow under the stressed conditions, Jay Northcott is vigilant.
“Hopefully keep your fingers crossed we don’t get anything big.
And the firefighters of Engine 233 are ready. Ready to suit up at a moment’s notice and do what they do best.