Fighting Fire With Memories

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There are a lot of fires out here in the west folks. One in my neck of the Idaho woods brought up some memories

Memories surface and for seconds, minutes, even all afternoon you are somewhere else in time, wondering how it all leads to making you who you are now.

My family has some land near Weippe, Idaho that was settled, so to speak, by my Irish immigrant great grandparents, we call it the Molloy Ranch. I got word today that it was touched some by the fire in the area, so I went up to take a look around.

It is about 100 acres; mostly field or what used to be field, surrounded by some timber. The Federal Government, in its great wisdom, used to pay people not to plant wheat. So my uncle, who does not farm and does not exactly like handouts, decided to plant part of the main field in ponderosa pine trees, which is the type of trees I imagine my great grandparents worked hard to remove. Several people today ask me if that was, “the place with the tree farm.” I heard the government wants to pay him for creating a habitat.


The land is in my mom’s side of the family, but when we were kids and my folks were still together we used to go up there every summer. My dad would farm and my mom would feed the hired cousins. I remember wheat, barley and my favorite, sweet peas in the main field.

There is a weed that puts out some strong odor in the Weippe area and when I got a whiff of it there today, I was six again running through the pasture in my bare feet, trying to rope steers with a rope that did not have enough hole in it to go around a steers head unless you were standing right next to it.

I remember being so frustrated at not roping anything, I walked up to a cow chewing grass and slipped the rope over her head just to say I had roped something. The feeling this produced was far less than satisfying. I did catch a steer by the ear once, and for one brief second I was the cowboy I wanted to be.

My dad used to practice his own roping skills by sending us kids loping across the lawn. I do not ever recall that being loads of fun for my brother and I. “Gee Dad do we have to?”

The fire crew put a cat line around the field, but some fire did get into the timber and burned most of the understory, but the big trees looked just fine. On the far side of the field a fella from Darby, Montana sat there in a water truck in his flame retardant yellow fire shirt and green kakis. I used to wear that outfit myself at Canyon Ranger Station on the North fork of the Clearwater river.

Within a second, there I was in my early twenties trying desperately to find myself a career. The water truck we had on the North fork was a lot older then the one that guy from Montana was sitting in. We used to use some pliers on the throttle switch that adjusted the water pump. It took a certain touch to operate, one that I did not possess. I remember getting the engine running way too hard and not being able to adjust it back down. I got a little over excited and started beating on the switch with the pliers. My boss came off the burn and adjusted it so quickly and smoothly, I was forced to beat myself up for a week for being such a mechanical genius.

I had actually fought fire in Darby, Montana at one point in that four year adventure. It was September maybe, and it got very cold at night, into the twenties I believe. I remember crawling out of my mummy bag, walking over and getting my coffee and cocoa blend, and bitching about how hard the work was and how dumb the big fire bosses were, along with grunts I called friends.


We were there a week or so mopping up a big complex fire like the one near Weippe. Mopping up ain’t exactly glamorous and you come back to camp dirty, sore, tired and wet.

Overall that was a great job to have just because you had a lot of people your age working with you. It was kind of tribal I guess, beat the shit out of some of the lonely office jobs I have had since.

I was lucky enough to meet a fire crew from Alaska who were doing some mop up work. That is them in the main picture. Very quiet, kind people. One of the guys remarked on a silver cross I was wearing. Then he pulled a blue beaded necklace and cross out of his pocket that was too long to wear on the fire line. It was gorgeous and made out of moose hide and porcupine quills. I took their picture which you can look at on this page.

That is a lot of story I know, but I like stories and taking my time with things. We could all use a little of that in our fast-paced world that leaves little time for reflection.

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