Sometime in the blur of September 2020, I stood on a ridgeline in the Plumas National Forest in Northern California and watched as the year’s deadliest fire ripped nearly 30 miles down the Middle Fork of the Feather River. The northeast winds that fueled the blowout howled around me and the other members of my crew throughout our 18-hour shift, peeling hard hats from heads, cracking lips, sandblasting eyelids until they puffed shut around grit-scratched corneas.
It was the middle of my first season on a Forest Service Hotshot crew. We’d come up to the mountaintop in the early morning to catch a slopover, a point where the wind had brought fire across our containment lines. Though dawn had barely broken, it was already windier than I could ever remember a day being, and the flames were making fast angry lunges through patches of dense brush toward a stand of thick timber.
We caught the slop and lined it. If you don’t live near constant wildfire, you might not know what that means; we used saws and hand... Read more