Monday, November 26, 2007

Forest Fire

Back in the summer of 1966, I was working at a summer camp in upstate New York. It was a dry year and there were some fires buring back in the woods a few miles. It was reasonably well known that you might get asked to work for the state a few days and you might not have a whole lot of choice in the matter.

So Paul, Nicky and I were leaving a cafe on the south side of Indian Lake when the local forest ranger showed up, reached in the back of his jeep, pulled out three packs of Pall Malls and handed one to each of us and said "You guys got anything you need to do for a few days?"
Of course we said "No" and we knew he'd probably called Florence Hayes, the lady we worked for and had her assent. We headed back down to a turnoff, parked and then climbed into the back of an ancient one ton Power Wagon. We went back in the woods about ten miles on a logging road and decamped at a supply dump. The ranger said "Load up, fellows and don't forget to grab a rake."

So load up we did, and we hiked up about four miles to where a small but very hot fire was buring on top of a mountain. We stationed ourselves around the periphery and every time something fell from the top and started the five foot thick carpet of pine needles and leaf mulch on fire, we'd knock it back with the rakes. That's it, just rakes.
The area of the fire is the high ground in the picture as best I remember it.

About the second night I'd run out of cigarettes. I was crawling around on my hands and knees in the pitch dark, and, would you believe it? My right hand landed right on top of a full pack of Pall Malls that someone had dropped. Right then and there I knew there was a G-d, and She was looking out for me.

After three days, the state had run a water line up the back side of the mountain and pretty well put things out, so we were released to go back to Twin Coves, looking like a bunch of barbecued squirrels.

I forgot all about the three days I'd spent up there, and then, in the winter of 1967, there was an envelope in my mailbox at Franconia College from the State of New York. Inside it was a check for about $55, with a short note of thanks.


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