Monroe’s Fire II

William Hanna
William C. Hanna on Amazon , English

Introduction to “Monroe’s Fire”
Jackson, a 54 year old veteran brush firefighter; John John, his 32 year old swamper, and Rebecca, 19 years old and a “seasonal” on summer college break were working their way up the Toro Canyon ridge trail to investigate a possible ignition somewhere down near the bottom of the gorge. Their FD Brush Rig was in radio contact with Goleta Dispatch, but as they neared the end of the trail at an outcropping their radio was overwhelmed with static. This was not an unexpected event, as Jackson knew that brush fires can generate their own electrostatic charge. A heavy plume of acrid burning Chaparral smoke was just now rising above the canyon ridge to the east of their position reinforced the radio problem, indicating a well-developed fire moving west now just below the ridge.
Looking over the edge they could now see open flames moving upslope now nearing the ridge top both ahead of and behind them. Directly below, the fire was a bit farther down but advancing rapidly with a jet-engine roar. Jackson realized they were trapped and they could now only follow his training, break out their heat-reflective fire blanket huddle under the rig, and hope the fire passed over them quickly.
The fire did pass quickly and in the process it had consumed the oxygen in the air to sustain combustion as it reduced the brush to ash in its wind-driven climb up the slope at the rate of 30 miles per hour. It took only a few seconds to pass over and destroy their fire rig, but by then and the two or three minutes the fire took to reach the ridge they had lost consciousness from lack of oxygen and died soon after the flame front had passed. The roiling cloud of thousand-degree incandescent nitrogen did not burn them, but the oven heat melted the dead flesh from their bones…
However disturbing this brief scenario may be, it is repeated over and over worldwide in the work-world of wildland fire protection personnel. While not common, many lives are lost among firefighters who, usually as a result of some command mistake, are suffocated by lack of oxygen in the close vicinity of burning vegetation. In Book One, the story that follows is about just such a fire and a man who survived it along with indigenous animals able to flee to safety in advance of the flames.

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