By Jim Urquhart
Fire in the west has always been part of my experience. In the summer months I often find the blue skies replaced with a dark orange glow of smoke. With my chosen career path these smoke-filled skies can mean a busy time of year but they seem to have started later in the summer than usual.
I keep a complete fire kit (nomex shirt, nomex pants, emergency fire shelter, leather boots, leather gloves, helmet and goggles) in my truck from the time the snow melts in the spring to until several inches of snow have returned in the fall. I found you always have to be ready to go and nimble because in the heat of the west all it takes is one errant cigarette butt, one hot car engine parked in the dry grass or one well-placed powerful lightning bolt to be called to work.
The year’s fires began to take shape for me last week. During a camping trip bolts of lighting had started several fires that were visible on the way home. These fires for the most part were in unpopulated areas. Then an afternoon looking at photos with friends was interrupted with the news of fire breaking out east of Park City, Utah, of the hills above the Rockport Reservoir. I monitored the growth from afar through the night but when it was determined that it had begun to take homes I struck out to cover it in the morning.
Once on scene it became apparent that while the risk for more fire was still there, it was more or less going to be a mop-up operation for some time to come. Then we got word that two fires near the towns of Boise and Mountain Home, Idaho had been really demonstrating some aggressive behavior. I had a couple contacts from previous fires that I’ve worked on before that were assigned to work these fires. We chatted and I was on my way first thing the next morning.
As I neared the Pony and Elk Complex fires east of Mountain Home I was hit with a think wall of low level ground smoke about 60 miles away from it. I knew it was going to be a busy day so I called my wife and let her know everything was going well on the road. I also told her I was going to be swamped and not to worry unless she doesn’t hear from me until the next day. I had learned a valuable lesson the year before.