My interview on Arizona Illustrated will first air on Sunday, September 29th at 6:30 p.m. and subsequently 8 more times on KUAT Channel 6 and Channel 6 PLUS. It will also be viewable online. I hope you'll come watch!
What a blast I had on September 5th, 2019, telling a "Disaster" themed story at Odyssey Storytelling in Tucson, Arizona! My disaster happened while battling my very first wildfire in 1976. Here's the podcast link. (I'm the second storyteller.)
Felling trees is a dangerous task to begin with, but that task is even more dangerous when the tree is on fire. In both cases there's a danger of limbs falling while you are cutting, the tree not falling the way you intended either because of hidden decay or other structural problems with the tree, and the phenomenon of 'barber chair', where the tree splits and kicks back at the sawyer, which can be fatal.
Why do firefighters cut down trees that are burning? Usually it is because the tree threatens to breach the fireline, or because it is close to where fire crews are working. The challenge of cutting down a burning tree is of course standing that close to flames, but there is also the risk of the gas in the chain saw catching on fire. Watch this video to get a feel for the danger and risks involved.
"Mopping up" after a wildland fire is a tedious, dirty, and difficult, but necessary, job.
Once the fire is contained within a fireline, only part of the work is done. To prevent the fire from restarting later, crews now need to comb the burned area in search of hotspots--burning stumps, logs and other debris that could threaten containment. Every single one.
One would think the danger is over now. But that's where the danger lies: believing the danger is over.
Exhaustion plays a role. The firefighter may have spent 16 hours battling the fire, and after a short break, it's time to go back to work. With the rush of adrenaline gone, it's easy to fall into the belief that you can let your guard down. But you can't. Falling trees have been known to kill people during the mop up stage. You also have to watch out for burning stumps, with hotbeds of coals that are hidden by ashes. If you step into one, you could end up with serious burns. Rocks are loosened when there is no vegetation to hold them in place, and they can tumble at any time.
And then there is the risk that the fire restarts. In a heartbeat you go from mopping up to active fire suppression.
Here's a video to give you an idea of what mop up entails. This lucky crew was able to have water available. Quite often this is not the case. When there is no water, you are stuck with using dirt to smother the flames, removing oxygen, or by chopping the burning roots or logs apart so they cool down.
Slurry (fire retardant) is often used to battle wildfires. While slurry can be useful in helping to control a fire, it will not put the fire out. Instead, it cools and slows the fire so that ground crews can build a fireline.
Back when I fought fire, I remember talk about men putting themselves in situations where they could be hit by slurry for bragging rights about being on the hottest part of the fire.
What a thrill to land an interview on my local PBS station! I will be talking about my firefighting career and visiting the scene of my second wildfire and Florida (Flor-ee-da) Ranger Station, where I spent three summers on a fire suppression crew.
Summers of Fire captures
the brief firefighting career of a pioneer in the profession. Linda Strader was
twenty years old when in 1976 she became one of the first women hired on a
Forest Service fire crew, a career that ended in 1982 when an injury forced her
to resign. Strader is an excellent memoirist, conveying equally well her
harrowing experiences fighting fires in the woods in Arizona and elsewhere and
the sexual harassment and discrimination in the fire camps and offices of the
Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Her attempts to advance her
career were undermined or thwarted at nearly every turn by those who believed
women did not belong in firefighting. She left the agency, married a member of
her original crew, and became a landscape architect. But the challenge of
pleasing a resentful husband while having a career took its toll; it took her
years to find a sense of purpose and resilience, as well as the courage alluded
to in the subtitle. Although it might be easy to characterize the book as being
for women because of its inspirational message about trying to make it in “a
man’s world,” men would greatly benefit from reading it, too, if only to learn
that it takes more courage to fight for respect and dignity than it does to
fight a wall of flames. (J.L.)
Forest History Today Spring/Fall 2018 Vol. 24 NOS. 1 & 2
Published May 2019
I had the honor of meeting Sean Farjadi on his podcast "Stories That Empower." Here's a summary from Sean of what we talked about: Linda experienced harassment as one of the first women on a U.S. Forest
Service fire crew. The more they harassed her, the more she didn't want
to quit, e.g. fires were not the only things she fought. When Linda
encountered an obstacle, she would come up with alternatives. After
losing her job, losing her mom and getting divorced, she rebuilt her
life for the 3rd time. Writing her book enabled Linda to reconnect with
her 20s and remind her that she is tenacious and resilient. She reinvented herself and starting teaching others. Linda shares these powerful nuggets of life wisdom: - we are more resilient than we think - figure out what's holding you back - confirm assumptions that explain why you're stuck - don't let people stop you from what you want to do - permit yourself to say no - trust your gut - there are always options