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Fire camp a team effort

Tamie MeckStaff Writer

Just after 6 a.m. Tuesday, about 250 men and women stood at the stage at Two Rivers Park as the sun hit the charred and smoldering vegetation of Red Mountain.They removed their hats, bowed their heads, and gave a moment of silence for the firefighters and others who lost their lives on Sept. 11.The men and women, all members of the Rocky Mountain Type I Incident Management Team, had gathered for their morning briefing before beginning Day 4 of fighting the Coal Seam Fire.About half of the team members listened to the morning’s reports on safety, weather, resources and other important issues, and received the day’s assignments from incident commander Steve Hart and several safety and information officers.Others slept, or were out on fire lines and other assignments. Compared to the past 65 hours, Tuesday morning’s relatively light smoke and lack of visible flames from Two Rivers Park made the morning seem quite halcyon.”I applaud your progress,” Steve Bennett of the Bureau of Land Management told the sleepy crowd. The Coal Seam Fire was the only major fire in Colorado not to “make a run” Monday. But everyone was fully aware that the fire still threatens Glenwood Springs. The weather report warned, once again, of gusty, unpredictable winds and extremely dry conditions.Crew members were reminded that, due to competition from other fires, resources were short. “Play it safe and don’t bite off more than you can chew,” they were told.Following the briefing, firefighters packed their gear, climbed into trucks, buses and vans and headed to their day’s assignment.Not everyone’s job is to fight the fire. White River National Forest archaeologist Alice Gustafson and fire archaeologist Andrea Brogan were planning to go into the South Canyon area to see what remained of Coal Camp.That is the remains of a small town, where South Canyon’s coal miners and their families lived around the turn of the century, located on a 2,800-acre tract of land owned by the city of Glenwood Springs.They assumed that the camp had been hit hard by the fire, but hoped to know more by the end of the day.Fortunately, said Brogan, the site had recently been documented.Other cultural sites that lie to the north are threatened, including old ranger stations, said Brogan. Her job is to identify, record and protect the heritage resources – or archaeological sites – within the forest.They say it takes a village, and this temporary village in Two Rivers Park works 24 hours a day managing the many aspects involved in extinguishing this pesky fire. But first, breakfast.Tuesday’s breakfast, enough to feed 900, included sausage, hash browns, scrambled or fried eggs, a fruit bar, juice and coffee. The kitchen poured out 35 gallons of milk and 80 gallons of coffee.”Coffee really sets the tone at fire camp,” said Richard Lefever, who heads up Bishop Services out of Goldendale, Wash. “We were here in ’94” when the Storm King Fire blew up and killed 14 firefighters, said Lefever. “We’re back.”By 6 a.m., the catering team made breakfast and sacked about 900 lunches, including 135 special orders for vegetarian meals.”About 15 to 20 percent of our meals are vegetarian,” Lefever said.At this camp, which is considered relatively small, he oversees 28 staff members. Shifts are generally about 18 hours long.The service operates out of a series of trailers, including a laundry and dishwashing facility, refrigerators, a cooking facility and other storage units, all connected by a custom-designed loading dock. “We try to do all of our desserts homemade,” said Lefever. “That’s our specialty.” The menu for Tuesday night included cherry pie.The entire facility has to be prepared to pick up and move at a moment’s notice, “which is usually in the middle of the night,” said Lefever.On Monday, Bishop Services served more than 400 lunches from a temporary camp that had been established at the Jackson Ranch south of Glenwood Springs, then packed up and moved to Two Rivers Park in time to serve about 800 dinners.Crew members coming in from the night shift stopped at the Grayback Forestry units for a hot shower. Grayback, based out of Grants Pass, Ore., provides services and equipment for the firefighting industry, including firefighting crews.”We do a lot more than this,” said Dale Ironside, head operator for the shower facility. Firefighting team members are typically allowed to shower any time between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m., and at odd hours of the night on special request, said Ironside.This particular facility provides 15 stalls – four women’s and 11 men’s – and with a camp this size there’s rarely a wait.Grayback does provide laundry service, but not for a camp this small, said Ironside. Other services are available at camp, including a secretarial pool. Tina Holden and Joni Greer, of Marysville, Calif., are members of the fire camp clerical team.”It’s basically a traveling Kinko’s,” said Holden, a teacher who spends her summers traveling from fire to fire.The team’s job is to work with the incident commander and other team leaders to create reports, assignments, and all of the other communications materials needed in the camp.”I think we can even laminate,” said Greer.It’s all a big team effort, noted community liaison Bill Kight, a regular staffer with the White River National Forest.”Their job is to make this place as normal as possible, as soon as possible,” he said.


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