Montana Outdoors

October 13, 2008

So much depends on the wind

Yesterday afternoon our local Rural Fire Department responded to a wildland fire. A whole bunch of fire departments just outside of L.A. responded to fires too. By dark, we had ours contained, while in southern California, homes were burning. We had a gentle breeze; they had Santa Anna winds with gusts up to 65 mph. What a difference the wind makes!

It was a great feeling last night, returning to the hall knowing that we had responded quickly, worked hard, cooperated well with other responding departments, and brought the fire under control with no loss of life or structures. There was also a feeling of gratefulness that the wind was not an issue in this case.

Until now I have not been able to take photos of a fire scene because there are so many more urgent things to do, but today when we returned to recover pieces of equipment and the situation was no longer urgent, I was able to take a few photos of the area to take home for my wife to see and to post here. (Some wives like to see where their husbands work: some really don’t!)

This fire began in a cattail swamp near the top of a small mountain a dozen miles from town. There were about a dozen homes in the immediate area. In the first photo, one home can be seen in the background, not far from the scene of the fire. I’m sure that was one anxious family!

Fire scene at "the swamp"

Wildland fire at "the swamp"

Fire scene at "the swamp"

You will have to take my word for it, the hill behind this scene was a lot steeper than the lens thinks it is!

Fire scene at "the swamp"

We were able to stop the advance of the fire before it entered the forest at this spot.

Fire scene at "the swamp"

The tracks of a brush truck going right through the fire to secure the far end.

Fire scene at "the swamp"

One of the keys to rapid response and success in fighting wildland fires has been the invention and production of “brush trucks”. They enable departments to attack new fires very quickly and efficiently. They are very maneuverable and have lots of capabilities.

The next photos are of the one I usually have the privilege to drive. It has been in many places where trucks just aren’t supposed to go and I’m getting very fond of it! The basic truck is a reinforced 4 wheel drive 1 ton pickup (this one has the big 7.4 liter Power Stroke diesel engine).

Rural Fire "brush truck"

The tall red tank with the “stack” on top is a 300 gallon water tank. To the right of it is a reel containing 150 feet of pressure hose. After the truck is brought to a stop and shifted into “park”, in about a minute this hose can be putting a solid stream of water (or foam) on a fire.

Rural Fire "brush truck"

At the very rear of the truck is the key to the whole operation, a versatile pump system that can draw from the on-board water tank, a pond set up on the scene, a river or creek, or another truck with a water supply. It can supply a water source to hundreds of yards of hoses and multiple nozzles.

Rural Fire "brush truck"

Once again, last night our brush trucks proved their worth… and in this case the wind was in our favor!


  1. Wow! Even though not on par with the magnitude of what happened outside of LA, this fire had the potential to be disastrous. I’m glad you have brush trucks and great volunteers like yourself! I remember several years back when a field caught fire where I was staying 7 miles outside of a rural town. I wasn’t terribly old at the time. My mother brought buckets of water while my father and I and two neighbors who were 99 and 100 years old beat the fire into submission with wet towels. Between one and two acres burned but we succeeded in preventing disaster. I remember how exhausted I was afterwards and being impressed with physical condition of the elderly couple next door. We never could have done it if the field had not recently been mowed plus there was no wind.


    Comment by Tabbie — October 14, 2008 @ 1:29 am

  2. Well, this reminded me of this song called “Everything’s Beautiful in its own way”. There is an inscrutable, intangible aspect of beauty even in nature’s destruction. You sure do have a very exciting workplace! 😀


    Comment by Sumedh — October 14, 2008 @ 6:50 am

  3. At least it did not get too out of hand. But this is all a natural form of succession.


    Comment by scienceguy288 — October 14, 2008 @ 9:28 am

  4. Congratulations on getting the fire under control without loss of any structures.

    (And on getting it stopped before it got into the forest–I see some of that “ladder fuel” you mentioned right near where y’all stopped it, don’t I?)

    I’m with your wife, if my husband fought fires, I don’t think I’d want to see him in action. It would just be too scary.

    LA’s Santa Ana winds are truly amazing, but I’m sure just awful for firefighters. Not only are they a strong wind, as you mentioned, but they’re also hot and dry. In the summer they feel like someone opened a furnace door.


    Comment by Sara — October 14, 2008 @ 10:44 am

  5. Tabbie,

    Field fires are nothing to take lightly! We had a fire in a hay field a few months ago and they are harder than one might think to get under control. I’ve heard that wheat field fires are really tough too. The best remedy is always rapid response, and these new trucks make a huge difference. I have so much confidence in them!

    I’ve also found that being involved with all the folks who turn out to battle a fire (or take care of a traffic accident or other problem) is a real pick-up for my spirits. There are still folks around who will work hard and risk their necks to take care of bad situations and being part of that is a pleasure and restores my respect for people.


    Comment by montucky — October 14, 2008 @ 11:52 am

  6. Sumedh,

    There is indeed a fascination that goes along with fire, and maybe that’s part of what keeps firefighters at their jobs for so long. That and the good feeling you get after you’ve taken care of a bad situation.


    Comment by montucky — October 14, 2008 @ 11:55 am

  7. Scienceguy,

    Yes, fire is a part of the natural order of things, but too many times now, as in the case of this one, humans do something stupid to start them too.


    Comment by montucky — October 14, 2008 @ 11:57 am

  8. Thanks, Sara!

    You’re right about those being ladder fuels. A high wind driving in that direction would have created a really bad situation!

    I’ve found that fighting fires really isn’t all that scary usually, because safety is always foremost, and we pretty much know what we’re doing. I can see though how it could bother someone watching it. That’s much different than being able to take an active part in it.

    I’m quite happy that we don’t have the Santa Anna situation here. That is the worst situation there can be. It’s bad here during a dry thunder storm, where lightning strikes are starting fires and the wind with the storm fans them. They don’t last all that long though.


    Comment by montucky — October 14, 2008 @ 12:03 pm

  9. THANK YOU! For all you do!


    Comment by Cedar — October 14, 2008 @ 5:35 pm

  10. Thanks for the comment, Cedar. What I do is not at all unusual though. Across America, 73% of all fire fighters are members of volunteer fire departments. In small rural towns there really isn’t any alternative. I’m just very happy that I’m still physically and mentally capable of responding along with some very capable and dedicated people.


    Comment by montucky — October 14, 2008 @ 6:46 pm

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