Firsthand account of fighting the East Peak fire, part 3

Part 2 of this account ends as CK has just completed maneuvers to save a structure near the Scout Ranch. He knows other firefighters will be wondering where he is.
I knew the rest of the firefighters would be worried and wondering “where is CK.” This is understandable. Because I am a senior citizen with two bad knees, they would be worried about me. Not that this was unusual to be out on a fire alone. In my early years as a line scout and field observer, I spent many a shift out on the fires gathering intelligence for the situation and planning units. Even as a division supervisor and safety officer, I would be out on the fires alone part of time checking on fire behavior, hazards and crew personnel. But I always made sure I had good radio communication and where my escape routes and safety zones were located.
About that time I got a text message from the IC that I had to return to the new staging area immediately. I think it was time for my butt chewing. So I left my hose and nozzles in place and began driving. A couple miles down the road, I stopped a vehicle coming up the road. It was a young man who told me he was “just wanting to see what the fire was doing.” In my mind I was thinking, “oh yeah, at 4 am in the morning!”
I explained to him that I did not have authority to tell him to turn around, but it was not safe and I had his vehicle description and license number. I told him if you go on up this road and later there is report of looting, you can expect that the sheriff will be looking for you! It did not take him long to turn around and exit the direction he came from.
I finally got to the new ICP just before day break. I took 40 verbal lashings less one. Reminded me of my parents when I would get tongue lashings for being late getting home and they did not know where I had been. They were worried sick. In all fairness to the IC, I know he had never had to deal with trying to manage a naked bear driving a fire truck before. I got some food and explained what I was doing. And that I needed to go pick up my hose lay and thermo gel nozzle and the remaining tools I had left to come down to staging. It did give me a chance to rehydrate the thermo -gel with a fine mist when I went back. Got loaded and it was morning. Now I was going to have to switch identity again and go to work as I had an 8 am appointment.
Fire activity was still very active for that time of early morning because there had been very little RH (relative humidity) recovery. Before I had left ICP to head back up, I surveyed the scene. Firefighters were sacked out beside their engines. Others were sleeping in their vehicles with necks bent over in awkward angles. They looked dead from exhaustion. The IC was showing big signs of fatigue as he had little or no sleep probably worrying about naked bears. I knew the firefighters would be in for a long hard day but also I knew the cavalry was coming.
We had a tree planting scheduled with 50-60 Upward Bound students on the old Track Fire burn scar down by Lake Dorothy near the Colorado state line. We knew Fort Collins leadership would be not happy cancelling such “an important event” so that I could take annual leave to go fight fire in my own back yard, so to speak. I had a very uneasy feeling driving south on I-25 with a load of seedling trees and watching the smoke plumes come up in the rearview mirror. No, it was a terrible feeling, difficult to describe.
My heart goes out to all those that lost things to the fire. I know that some of you did beat your selves up with “what if’s,” also. But almost every one of you has shown great inner strength and is now moving forward with your lives. Keep it up. For everyone else who is a landowner in forested areas, do not wait to let the “what ifs” beat you up. Now is the time to become Firewise, get yourself educated on what you need to do, get a plan, and do it so your house will survive the next wildfire. Go to the websitewww.firewise.org for more information. Contact your local fire department for advice. Also look at the Colorado State Forest Service website for fuel mitigation tips, building with fire resistant materials, and how to develop CWPPs (Community Wildfire Protection Plans):http://csfs.colostate.edu/pages/wildfire.html.
And maybe by this time next year, when someone asks, “where is CK?”, the answer may be “Gone Fishing!”