Reflection & a thank you to wildland firefighters

I recently finished this book called The Big Burn. To briefly (and inadequately) sum it up, this book tells the story of the founding days of the U. S. Forest Service as well as the fire of August 1910, which was known as “the Big Burn.”

Why do I bring up this book in a blog post?  As a relatively new member of the U. S. Forest Service, I am still learning the history of this conservation-based agency.  This book educated me in the storied history of which I am now a part of.  Between that book and two occasions over the past few months, I am now, more than ever, proud to wear this uniform.

This summer I jumped into a new job and straight into assisting with the planning of events surrounding the 75th anniversary of the Blackwater Fire.  While I had never heard of this fire, which took the lives of 15 men on August 21, 1937, I would soon acquire a great deal of knowledge about it.  I would learn that this fire changed how fires are fought and led to the creation of the smokejumper program.

I would also learn the personal side of the Blackwater Fire.  Being 75 years removed from the fire, there were only a few individuals who attended the anniversary events who had been alive that fateful day.  One story which really hit me was that of the Hale family.  This family came from several places in Utah and Wyoming to be a part of all of the events that week.

The family of Rex Hale at the 75th anniversary ceremony

The family of Rex Hale at the 75th anniversary ceremony

While only one member of the family had been alive to know Rex Hale, who gave his life on August 21, 1937, there were over a dozen Hales in attendance at every event.  Through oral storytelling, this family (to include junior high aged kids) is as connected to Rex Hale as I am to my own sister.  The passion and love this family showed was simply moving.

Meeting the Hale family for the first time during the Blackwater Memorial hike

Meeting the Hale family for the first time during the Blackwater Memorial hike

Having been given some of the tasks in pulling together all of the week’s events, I had the chance to spend time with this entire family and see the pain in the eyes of Rex’s brother who was but a young boy when his brother died.  I also met an amazing man who is the son of James Saban, who also lost his life to the fire.  This now elderly gentleman told me that this 75th anniversary celebration allowed him to finally put the loss of his father to rest and give him peace.

Proud to be part of the crew who put it all together

Proud to be part of the crew who put it all together

When I visited Glenwood Spring, CO for work this fall, my friend Ann Driggers told me I needed to do the Storm King Mountain hike.  I vaguely remembered having heard about this fire which occurred in 1994 and took the lives of 14 brave wildland firefighters.  I decided to end my time in CO with this memorial hike; Sydney and I hiked it the evening before we headed home to WY.

At the Storm King Mountain trailhead

At the Storm King Mountain trailhead

As I hiked the same trail used by those men and women in July 1994, I was all the more appreciative of the dangerous work our wildland firefighters do year round throughout our country.

Remnants of the 1994 burn remain

Remnants of the 1994 burn remain

These young men and women lost their lives in an attempt to protect those around them.

We mourn the loss but honor their lives

We mourn the loss but honor their lives

The people in positions such as this don’t do it for the money; those actively fighting fires often make much, much less than most individuals comfortably typing in an office.  They don’t do it for the glory; their names will never be known even to the people whose homes their work saves.  They do it because they have a strong sense of service, and they do it because someone must.

To those you have gone before in fires such as the Big Burn, Blackwater, and Storm King and those who will continue to fight fires as we move into 2013, I thank you.

Many thanks

Many thanks

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I remember the storm King Mountain fire. If I can recall correctly, it was a huge fire in Colorado, And many smokejumpers from Oregon died? I remember seeing a 20/20 story on that fire. I still tell people about the story I saw one of the surviving firefighters tell. Very sad

    Reply

  2. Nice write up Kristie. Not sure if you know the book or not but ‘Fire on the Mountain’ about Storm King is an excellent read for the layperson (me) and also I hear a definitive writing in wild land fire fighting. Recommend it highly.

    Reply

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