HUNTINGTON LAKE – When I rolled into the Aspen Fire Incident Command Post, which has sprung up at the China Peak Mountain Resort, it was 6 a.m., Sunday morning. Skies were clear and blue, and the temperature was perfect, just south of 50 degrees.
I had worried that arriving so early would mean a smoky inversion, but that wasn’t the case – at least in camp.
Everyone was gathered for the morning briefing, where updates on fire behavior, weather conditions, safety concerns and the day’s objectives are laid out, and the day shift – clean, rested and fed – prepared to head out to the firelines.
Henry Herrera, Special Uses Administrator for the Sierra National Forest who is serving a 14-day stint as a Public Information Officer for the Aspen Fire, had graciously agreed to be my guide for a trip to the fireline. He arranged for us to visit Division Yankee, in the southeast corner of the fire along Stump Springs Road.
So as to avoid creating a traffic hazard for the big engines and crew buggies during shift change on the narrow mountain roads, we waited for the day shift to head out to their assignments, and the night shift to arrive in camp for breakfast, showers and some well-deserved rest.
Then we donned Nomex and boots, made sure we had gloves, hard hats and safety goggles and with lunches and water bottles in hand, set out for our destination.
After seeing the fire only from the west side of the San Joaquin River canyon and taking pictures of the suppression efforts of helicopters and planes, I was looking forward to finally photographing the crews on the fireline.
The clear skies soon gave way to haze as we drove through the community of Big Creek, and then dense smoke as we approached the road guard stationed at Stump Springs and Huntington Lake Roads.
From that point on, I began to appreciate the conditions in which the crews are working every day, on shifts of anywhere from 12 to 16 hours. My scratchy throat and burning eyes told the story, and I was only there for an hour or two.
Even though a helicopter could be heard overhead, we couldn’t see it through the dense smoke, and even the traffic along the roadway was difficult to see at times.
When we arrived at Drop Point 3, where supplies for those working this section of the fire are delivered, the driver of this white pickup, whose name I am ashamed to say, I did not get, served as our escort for the rest of our trip.
He waited patiently as I jumped in and out of Henry’s truck, taking advantage of the less smoky spots to grab photos of the firefighters working this portion of the fireline.
There are crews from dozens of forests on this fire, working on the firelines and in camp. There are Hotshot crews and inmate crews, city firefighters and even some from volunteer fire departments. Since I can’t identify them all, I will just share some of my photos from the fireline.
As we headed back to camp, we saw that all along the road that winds around Huntington Lake are colorful signs thanking the firefighters.
I also caught a quick shot of a Sky Crane taking on water from the lake. There was a boat nearby “guarding his spot,” or rather protecting the public from getting too close. The rotor wash from this ship is incredible.
The very last photo at the end of this page looks like a waterfall. It is not. It is retardant running down the rocks in the stream bed. (Be sure to click on photos to enlarge.)