Personal Dozers and Phantom Helicopters: When Trouble Hits

Wildfire season, alas, started early this year, helped by 50-90 MPH winds and very, very low dewpoints. Broken power-lines and other things spark, dropping sparks onto dry grass and brush, and it’s Katie, bar the door.

That’s when the cavalry, including ranchers and others with heavy equipment, and in one case a mystery water-dropping helicopter, comes riding up. Because there’s a need, and they have the tools, and fill the need. It’s what people do, at least in most of the country. It’s just a bit more dramatic when the flames race and smoke blows, and bulldozers cut wide swaths of brush and scrub in order to slow or stop the flames. The “mystery” helicopter turned out to belong to a group of ranchers who looked around, pooled funds and expertise, and (to make a fun story short) got certified to operate a fire-fighting helicopter. They just, somehow, forgot to tell the local fire marshal and Powers That Be. Instead they showed up and dumped water where and when it was needed, before the state planes could arrive. (Now they are worked into the local system, but the “mystery water bomber” was fun gossip for a while.)

The point being, people are lending what resources they can, when the resources are needed. Just like the local volunteer departments get inundated with granola bars, water, eye-drops, and other things if word gets out that they need things like that. Not to mention baked goods, sandwiches, and other stuff that somehow never makes the news. And folks from outside of town show up for the next fund-raiser to help out after a bad year. It’s an American thing, alas perhaps becoming a regional thing, of “how can we help? Where do we take it? What else do you need?” Up here, we’re rather isolated, even today, and so we tend to turn inward for both entertainment and for help in times of trouble. Being self-contained can be good at times, although there are limits.*

It is easy to think of range-fires and wild-fires as things that happen “out there,” away from towns and cities, in the empty spaces. Fire moves, it jumps, it races. And cities and town often include what looks like “out there,” grassy fields and brushy areas that are city property, or are inside the official municipal limits. Like so many things in the wide, wonderful world, fire doesn’t stop to read maps. It moves with the wind, sometimes against the wind, trots briskly downhill and gallops uphill. All it needs is air, heat, and fuel. Two of those three have been abundant these past seven days, alas, and the results are quietly smouldering as I type.

We’ve been fortunate thus far, and have not lost anyone. That may change. I hope it doesn’t, and I hope we get rain or wet snow soon. But until then, mystery helicopters and private dozers will be ready to answer the call, for which I give great thanks.

*Insular isn’t so good. And being abused by outsiders, and by groups that dump people into the area “because you are so generous” isn’t so good, either.


9 thoughts on “Personal Dozers and Phantom Helicopters: When Trouble Hits

  1. It’s amazing what you can do with local people and equipment, before or when the official help and busybodies arrive. We had the reporter types immediately issue the reflexive “give to the Red Cross” for the tornado swathe in central states, but I’d rather wait and hear what the locals need first, then go direct.

    • One of the major saves during the Paradise Mountain fire (in ’03, which burned my parents’ original retirement house to the ground) was performed by the staff of a retail outlet, Bates Nut Farm, on the Woods Valley Road. The Sunday that the fire blazed through, the Bates family was having their yearly staff picnic on the grounds. Which was providential – because the staff helped secure the place (and their jobs, which must have concentrated their minds wonderfully!). There happened to be some construction going on, at the place just down the road, where there was an unattended water bowser, parked and locked — but full of water. According to what was reported later, the Bates foreman cut the lock on the water bowser with a pair of bolt cutters, and they ran it up and down the property perimeter, wetting everything down – the place was spared because of this.
      My parents felt they were very lucky, in comparison: they only lost the house, but not a business, family members or pets.

        • Fire anything official flying is white-and-red, locally. I’d think it sensible to paint a private flying fire thing the same colors.

          Much appreciation for the volunteers, official and nine, and very glad to hear that zero fatalities.

          (Best thing about blizzard season is wildfires don’t go when there’s six inches of white on the ground.)

  2. Paul- Don’t give them any ideas…LOL We got a ‘few’ personal dozers out earlier in the week down here. Much like last winter, when personal tractors with scrapers came out to clear streets and parking lots, drivers smiling through the layers of clothes! (Honey, they needz me out there! I’ll be back in a couple of hours)…

  3. We get that around here. On occasion, a rancher with heavy equipment has cut dozer lines before the official fire people can get their equipment in place. We haven’t seen any phantom helicopters. Yet.

    I’ll plow our portion of the private road from the highway to the top of the first hill (where our gate is) when we get enough snowfall. I can’t do a really wide path, so the people who live further back will have the plows touch up my work when their hills get done.

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