The Last Frontier is an experience that many firefighters never get. For the crews that do, it is a memorable experience that they regale their peers, friends and family with.
Instead of digging miles of handline across ridgetops as done in many places in the lower 48, in the rare occasion crews dig line in Alaska, they instead cut what is refer to as “tundra trenches,” which is much like pulling carpet. The intact tundra mat is easily replaced during suppression repair and grows back. Firefighters hike through wet, squishy ground with fire hose to spray the spruce trees spitting fiery sap, as bugs, nip at any exposed skin.
The comforts of caterers, internet and showers reside far away in the lower 48. Alaska’s rugged, remoteness does not allow for such relief. Firefighters must be self-sufficient and build their own “rad” camps. Surviving off Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs, for the first 72 hours until fresh food is flown in. Learning quickly who the good cooks are on their crew. Dinning on steaks and getting creative with leftovers to make “weird soups.”
The midnight sun keeps many from sleep, that even the physical tolls of fighting fire cannot overcome – confusing some to the point they start pulling boots on many hours before their shift starts.
Even the primary modes of travel to the fireline are different in Alaska. To get the firefighters needed to battle one of Alaska’s busiest fire seasons, crews from the lower 48 were flown by the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) jet and are returning the same way. Once in Alaska, firefighters are often boated in on rivers lined with eagles and flown by helicopter into the moose and bear inhabited backcountry.
Hear firefighters describe their Alaska experience, while they wait to board the NICC jet back to the lower 48. Firefighters interviewed are with the Willamette National Forest, Central Oregon Northwest Regional Crew, and Baker River Interagency Hotshot Crew based out of Washington and Oregon.
~Story and video by Kelsey Griffee, a public information officer with the Alaska Wildland Fire Information Center.
Also, take a tour of an Alaska hotshot crew camp in remote Alaska in this video; watch the Redmond Hotshots cook food from fresh food boxes at a remote camp in this video; and Chapter 12 of the Alaska Wildland Fire Orientation video lower 48 crews watch shortly after arriving in Alaska addresses remote fire camps.
Categories: AK Fire Info, BLM Alaska Fire Service