The Fed Side III

It’s February 2013 and tanker 48 is back on-the-job. We’re currently hanging in Porterville where I’m trying to reconstruct the balance of last season. It’s like déjà vous all over again; as I recall we left Casper Wyoming July 30th and headed to our current location, Porterville CA. After spending the night it was on to Santa Maria.  We’d made it coast-to-coast and I was looking forward to sticking my toes into the Pacific the next day off, but it was not to be.

Lake County beckoned so we hauled a load north. We arrived in time to watch some S-2’s drop on a wind driven fire scorching rows of Muscat grapes; just a guess. We were done for the day by the time we added our load to the retardant line and a little more red to the vino tinto. With a little help from the Air Attack we negotiated our way to Chico and I got to spend my first night at home in four months.

Things were beginning to pop in the Golden State. We bounced from Chico to Redding a couple of times then flew back to Porterville to work lightning starts around Lake Isabella. Three days later we took-off with an erroneous lat/long for a fire outside Fresno. Initially, we missed the fire by thirty miles. Sometimes you have to wonder what’s going on at dispatch. When the images on tanker TV aren’t attracted to each other they are not going to the same place. After sorting things out on the tactical frequency we got to the fire, dropped, then it was back to Redding. With all the moving around our chase mechanic was developing road sores.

The Chips fire had started to crawl around various forks of the Feather River canyon and foul the air when we returned. We hauled red stuff out of Stead without much effect then the North Ops bungee snapped us back to Redding. Meanwhile, the Rush fire started in Nowhere Nevada. The evil lightning gods had nothing better to do. On the way to Nowhere Nevada we passed the Lassen National Park where nature was policing up all that nasty forest litter thanks to the good fire gods.

The next days involved picking our way to the Rush Fire through the smoke from the Chips Fire and the growing plume from the Lassen clearing operation. The Rush Fire, aka the Vacuum Butt Fire, was having its way in Nowhere Nevada. The bungee brought us back to Redding each day after loading at Stead. The Butt Vacuum fire sucked retardant from Boise in belly of the DC10 and Susanville in 802’s as well as S2s from Stead.

In the future I think the Park Service management should watch Fantasia. I’m dating myself but I remember it well. Disney, animated, and in color!! It offered various short venues: relevant for the Park Service, the Sorcerers Apprentice. Mickey Mouse played the apprentice. He’s charged with cleanup after the sorcerer departs. The mop is tedious until he finds the magic wand and begins to employ it. Soon the mop is on autopilot and begins to multiply. While Mickey takes a break mops and buckets of water unleash a torrential storm of cleanup. When the sorcerer returns he’s aghast and takes control. Lassen was pretty much cleaned up but the bad fire gods had begun to slick off timber, in and out of the park boundaries. When we could see we began to work it. Meanwhile Manton, Mill Creek, and Shasta took off. Then we popped an engine.

Our machine had performed flawlessly all summer so I guess it was time. We lost some torque on takeoff and shortly thereafter the right engine began to bark. With plenty of speed we didn’t pollute the Sacramento River. After shutting down number two we found a good spot and punched off the load then landed. Our highly trained crew of experts had us flying two days later.

More storms passed through the Mendocino, Six Rivers, and Trinity as if there weren’t enough to do. Kudos to whoever decided to let us begin to IA new starts. We worked six fires one day helping to contain them all. It was nice spending time in Redding as I could get home on days off. Pretty special for the lost boys on fed contracts. Could I have some cheese with the whine?

Things began to calm down a little then we were off to Lancaster, fire in the Angeles Forest. They got a handle on the fire after a few days then it was back to Redding. It was still smoky but things were calming down.  With a little help from our competitors we were able to stay in Redding to accomplish a type ride for the first officer.

I don’t recall why but we went to Fresno. It wasn’t too handy, as my wife was admitted to the hospital with appendicitis the day after we arrived. Minden Air sent relief and I went home for a week to help out. With things under control I went back to Fresno and sat. Old Town Clovis is not bad if you have the time. We went north one more time, just to see if we could find it. Fortunately our mechanic had road calices. Two days later it was off to San Bernadino.  I finished the year in SBD, the plane stayed on awhile longer. The retardant folks put on a nice feed at their place, an end-of-the year party.

We put three hundred and fifty hours on the plane last year, not bad. Our tanker 55 didn’t fare as well. I lost some friends. I’m really sick of that. I think somewhere along the way we start to take ourselves pretty seriously. We worry about being politically correct instead of looking at our faux pas and prejudices laughing and learning we’re all human. In the Fed world our companies don’t share information for fear of exposing a weakness or flaw while coveting some perceived advantage. Life is too short. Lets do better. Have a good 2013.

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