Fire camps never cease to amaze: Like a magician whisking away his big red scarf to reveal something out of nothing, a fire camp can magically appear overnight in a bare field.
Of course, there’s no magic about it. Preparing to house, feed and care for hundreds maybe thousands of firefighters is a well-honed skill. The Logistics folks on a fire team are responsible for finding a site near the fire that’s big enough, close enough – but not too close – and hopefully upwind from all the smoke. It’s often a cow pasture, a fairgrounds, an RV park or a school. Sometimes there are buildings and electricity and phone lines and plumbing. Just as often not.
Within 24 hours, these logistic wizards arrange for everything thousands of people need to live and work for weeks on end: tents or trailers for the administrative types; a food caterer, shower facilities, portable potties by the truckload – and much, much more.
It takes a village to protect a village. The typical fire camp is its own self-contained city. A medical tent is there for everything from sore throats and poison oak to sprained ankles and worse. Food is cooked in large trailers and firefighters eat surprisingly good meals at tables often under circus-sized tents. For lunch, you pick up a brown bag full of 4,000 calories; it may contain sandwiches or burritos and always with fruit and sweets. Those staying in camp, not out on the fire lines, are prone to gain weight.
Showers are provided in the form of re-tooled semi-truck trailers. You take your boots off outside and are handed a large paper towel to dry off with. There’s nothing much better than a shower at a hot, dusty, sticky and smokey fire.
There is even a laundry where you learn your “tidy-whities” might come back tinted green after being washed with the dark green government-issue fire pants. At least they’re clean.
Most people bring small tents, sleeping bags and air mattresses. A field crammed full of hundreds of colorful tiny tents is quite a sight.
And when the fire’s over? Just as magically a huge city disappears and once again cows roam lazily through a summer pasture.