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The secret life of Two Rivers

Donna Daniels

On the bulletin board outside the fire information trailer in Two Rivers Park is a hand-lettered message, in crayon, from Nick.

“Fier man rock and thank you for saving my home. Love Nick.”

Messages of gratitude and support have poured in to fire camp in Two Rivers Park, where more than 600 firefighters from across the country are bivouacked while they tackle the Coal Seam Fire in the surrounding hills.

In an afternoon, this tent-town sprang up on the green lawns where people usually gather on Wednesday evenings to hear jazz, or bikers and walkers promenade on the path that rings the park overlooking the Colorado River.

Ranged around the sea of tents in the middle of the park are legions of trailers large and small, providing meals, showers and clerical support.

Friday evening, tired firefighters lounged in the open doors of their tiny dome tents, tending to sore feet or calling home on a cell phone.

Stewart Richter, of Darby, Mont., clad in the maroon T-shirt of the Bitterroot Hot Shots, spent the day in Division E on the southwest corner of the fire.

“We lined a big section of fire,” he said, speaking of building fire line in South Canyon.

Richter, who arrived with his crew of 20 on Monday, has spent most of his time in Division E.

He pronounced camp life, “OK,” but said he likes a smaller camp.

His tent sits cheek-by-jowl beside the tents of the other 20 Bitterroot Hot Shots, on the north end of the park.

“It’s nice sleeping in a warm place at night,” he added.

Richter, like all the firefighters on the Coal Seam Fire, works an average of 15 hours a day, from 5:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. He’ll put in a 14-day shift, then take a mandatory two days off.

“We normally don’t get in before dark,” he said, noting that Friday was an exception.

At the northwest end of the park, close to the kiddie playground, a half dozen massage therapists set up their tables and chairs. They did a booming business Friday evening, judging by the line of firefighters who waited for their chance to have aching muscles eased.

Alexander Smith, of Eugene, Ore., sat atop a picnic table smoking the tail end of what looked like a hand-rolled cigarette.

Friday he put out small hot spots – burning tree roots – on the north end of the fire in Division H.

“We took a couple of trees down,” he said.

Smith, and Jason Dodge, of Oakridge, Ore., who sat beside him, couldn’t say enough about the reception they’ve had in Glenwood Springs.

“It’s so heart-warming,” Dodge said.

“A lady at the pool said if we needed anything, just to come to the house,” Smith said. All the crews were given free passes to the Hot Springs Pool, he added.

“About 90 percent of the people I’ve talked to said this is the best camp they’ve ever been in,” Smith said. “It’s the best fire I’ve ever been on.”

Smith and Dodge are part of the Skookum Firefighters of Eugene, Ore. Their crew arrived Sunday night.

Over by the baseball diamond, on the covered benches behind home plate, Jeremy Larsen, of Albany, Ore., and Brandon Engen, of Eugene, waited for their turn at the pay phone.

They belong to the Ferguson Wildland Firefighters headquartered in Portland, Ore. Ferguson has five 20-man crews on the Coal Seam Fire, Larsen said.

“This is my sixth season, and I’ve never been treated so well in a town,” Larsen said. “We’ve had so much hospitality. One gal gave us flowers.”

Back down the line of trailers on the south side of the park, Jim Dale, of the Tennessee Division of Forestry, wrapped up a day as acting fire information officer.

In a soft Southern drawl as smooth as butter, Dale recounted the day’s work.

“We had a good day. The winds gusted to 40 miles per hour and the humidity was between four and six percent. It had all the potential to be a bad day. There were some flare-ups on the north end in spruce and fir … but we had four air tankers on it,” he said. “It was nothing very serious.”

At about 9:30 p.m., night settled over the camp. The tents were dark. Most of the firefighters were asleep.

All too soon it will be 5:30 a.m., time for reveille, time to get marching orders for the day, time to shoulder packs and head back to the fire.

The public can tour fire camp today, Sunday, June 16, between 1 and 4 p.m. The 30-minute tours will begin on the hour. To pre-register for a tour call the Fire Information Center at 947-1292 or 947-1269.


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