The Fed Side

Chico pirate!

Dean Talley reporting; Fire season 2012

Lounging around Redding brings back memories. The faces I recognize have more wrinkles and the hair is thinner and gray. But that could be the mirror. Compared to the first twenty-eight years flying contracts in California for CDF and region five federal contracts, where leaping the state boundaries was an anomaly, the last seven years as a road-warrior broadened my horizons. Right now it feels like I’m home.

For the record I work for Minden Air flying a P2. My contract started April first and we went to Texas. We spent one memorable evening at a place called the Bee Hive. It’s a steak house and bar and boasts a fine meal. We were entertained by a Truman Capote clone; Monica, good for fantasies and an excellent person; and her beau, an Air Force C130 jock pretty impressed with himself. Fortunately Texas stopped burning last winter and after a few days admiring the acres of Blue Bell wildflowers carpeting Abilene airport we were off to Lake City Florida.

A fed tanker parked in Lake City is pretty much a jobs program for a nice group of southern boys. Unfortunately it has just dawned on the various agencies responsibly for fighting fire in Florida the state is a swamp, and the use of retardant in close proximity to water is anathema. That’s bad if you fly an airtanker and have a work ethic. Fortunately I’m flexible.

I spent the first days off going to Saint Augustine. Nice beaches, lots of history, and a pirate museum. I connected with a couple of my old Coast Guard buddies trekking to Saint Petersburg and Cedar Key. My buddy Bob, recently retired from North West Airlines, conducted the boat tour of Tampa Bay on another day off. My other buddy Bob is now the wooden boat god of Cedar Key. I was introduced to the dolphin population of Cedar Key on my next one-day weekend aboard a gaff-rigged sloop, a replica spawned from a Van Gogh painting.

All good things end. Just before closing on a nice double-wide in the piney woods of north Florida and after finishing a deep-fried salad we were off to Colorado.

Our first stop was Jeffco, AKA Denver, then over the hill to Grand Junction. Just south of “GJ” is another Forest Service forest where retardant is not welcome. We watched Forest Service trees burn working lightning starts on BLM grassland. It seems a group called Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, FSEEE, has sued the Forest Service regarding the use of retardant on FS lands. It’s okay on BLM, BIA, or state lands where it is not an environmental hazard. Curiously, FSEEEEEee, are not Forest Service Employees so I question the ethics of their name.

After bouncing back to Minden to make sure the wings weren’t going to fall off we found ourselves back in Jeffco where fire season had begun in earnest. Fortunately the Forest Service was using retardant so we went to work flying numerous days and hours on large fires to the north, south, and west. We made friends with some of our Canadian brethren with their Convairs and birddogs.  We found an interesting and reasonable place to stay in Boulder, the Outlook I think it was. They hosted The Blues six nights a week; nice to unwind with a cold beer and music after a long day.

Boulder was interesting: walking trail on the creek, pedestrian friendly outdoor downtown habituated by street entertainers; magicians, acrobats on various bike derivatives, hawkers hawking, peddlers peddling, and college co-eds co-edding. There was more music, the most memorable, piano-playing street people. Good places to eat and drink. After several weeks, with Colorado Springs ablaze, we left for Montana leaving the mess to the recently activated National Guard.

Helena was on fire. The base wasn’t quite on-line so we picked up retardant in Billings and headed out. Approaching Helena we tuned the ATIS. The winds stood out registering thirty-nine gusting to forty-seven. The good news, it was only twenty degrees off the runway heading. We arrived with the air-attack and formulated a plan. The tanker base was four miles from the fire and ready to pump mud. We got our butt kicked yet managed to put some retardant on the ground and do good. Refreshing to do IA when it mattered and accomplish something. The next morning we could see the fire was out from the motel. Back to Billings.

Next time: bed bugs and dead presidents.

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