Complex and simple at the same time
At the incident command post, everyone was wearing the same outfit. Green fire pants were complemented by a sand brown polo shirt with the Interagency Fire Use Management Team logo. Brown boots sturdy enough to use in the face of fire completed the look.The uniforms made all of the people from different agencies look like they were on the same team. And they were.The uniform was probably the simplest thing that I witnessed while at the Grand Junction Air Center. We were there because lightning had ignited two wildfires in the area. And as most people know, fire is complex. I realized that very quickly.ICs (incident commanders), FIOs (fire information officers) and OPS (operation managers), among others, came from the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), the USFS (United States Forest Service), the NPS (National Park Service) and the UCR (Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit). The room was swarming with acronyms; I almost had to learn a different language just to understand where and how the fire was being managed.Fighting fires is a complex business.At our briefings at 0700 hours, the IC went over ozone layers and levels, the reconnaissance that the helitack ship would be doing later on during the day, and the radio repeaters that weren’t working quite as well as everyone had hoped. People had to explain what exactly each phrase meant, just so I could follow.Even the language used to manage fires is complex.Another intricate detail of the two blazes is that they were “fire use fires.” For these types of fires, management decides that the best course of action is to let the fire do its job by clearing away much of the dense undergrowth of the forest.With a fire-use fire, hot shot crews are still brought in to monitor the fire and create any firelines (or barriers) in order to make sure the fire doesn’t go where it’s unwanted.The complexity doesn’t stop there, though.Because the USFS has a history of jumping on wildfires and suppressing them at all costs, the public is familiar with this action. When they see smoke, they assume the firefighters are already battling the blaze.With the smoke from the Coal Creek and Clover fires came public concern. Why wasn’t the fire being put out? Why would you ever want to let the forest burn?It can sometimes be difficult to change what history has ingrained in us. Sometimes fire can be used for good, which was the case here.After three long days, I realized that through all of the complexities of acronyms and adjustments to life on a fire, the uniform we wore was not the only simple thing.The personnel were all there for the same reason; to take care of the public and the land, using the best means possible.Simple enough.Anica Wong is a guest columnist writing about her first wildfire. She is a student intern working in public affairs this summer for the White River National Forest with Bill Kight. Having just graduated from CSU, Anica will be attending Stanford this fall to continue her studies in journalism.
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