top of page

Fear on the Fireline: My First Real Encounter - Part 4 of 4

High above the calamity below, a breeding pair of red-shouldered hawks slowly circle on the convection columns, drifting like a song. The blue sky is their limit, which I often am envious of. Being trapped in a desperate situation gives me a moment of clarity. The world is much bigger than my own troubles. I have to take action.

I glance to my left and right. I consider a deployment of my fire shelter for a brief time, but think better of it because of the dense brush all around. The only real path I have is onward over the flames into the blackened trees and shrubs beyond.

Being on this large machine is a blessing to me. While definitely not recommended in the owners manual, it can act as a fast way to maneuver over obstacles when troubles arise. Having this type of tool has saved our crew countless hours of walking through overgrown areas like this on foot, which requires a different level of risk and additional people to get the job done. To put it simply, the machine takes the beating so you as the individual do not have to. While we don't use ATV's on all burns, in my opinion, they have saved tremendous amounts of time and money. I also believe that they have prevented many injuries over time.

My decision becomes clear. I glance all around me to find the least intense flames, and race towards them. I tuck my arms to my sides and I let the machine act as a shield as it plows over top of the fire. My world becomes very hot for a brief moment, and just as suddenly as the trouble began, it is over. I race over smoldering logs and brush, and wind my way back to the road to hop off and check to survey the damage.

"I got boxed in pretty bad back there" I say over the radio. "Are you ok?" is the next reply. I respond in the affirmative. As I am checking the machine over, all I find is a smoldering stick jammed through the suspension. Not even the plastic has melted. The rest of the crew comes to check on me, and in a few moments the attention is directed back toward the fire. The change in the wind is a signal to the burn manager to stop igniting. The rest of the planned acres for today will be set aside for another time. Like a football player standing on the sidelines, I watch the waves of fire crash together inside the block of woods. We are at a good stopping point, so we spend the rest of the day focusing on extinguishing stumps and logs along the boundary of the area to make sure nothing gets out overnight.


Late in the afternoon, I am tired but happy. Today was a good reminder to keep my head up, because there will always be risk. As I pull back out onto State Road 19 and head north towards my home in East Palatka, I turn up the radio when JJ Grey and Mofro tune in. I look up to see my sooty face in my rear view mirror as I sing along...

Listen to the birds sing their song

Listen to my heart beating strong

I just want to feel like I do when I'm with you

It's a beautiful world

I look over and see those two trailer park boys on a front porch and wave as I roll on by. They return my wave, and glance at one another. The taller one laughs and says "Damn, that fool looks like he just slept in a bed of charcoal!"

CWL, 12/2/22

Guana River WMA overlooking the marsh, Circa 2018


bottom of page