By Chris Auringer
Auringer is a Public Information Officer working on the Uncles Complex fires.
Aircraft availability is always an issue when things get really busy during fire season, and not everything firefighters do requires a high-tech approach. Sometimes low-tech/old-tech is the ticket.
Mule strings can provide a valuable, less expensive, and often safer alternative to helicopter operations when moving cargo on fire incidents. Mules can also operate when visibility is poor due to smoke or weather, which can preclude the use of aircraft. It makes sense to use mule teams if they are close by and available.
On Tuesday August 8, firefighters on the Rush fire, located in the Trinity Alps Wilderness on the Klamath National Forest, requested a mule team to assist Hot Shot crews working in the steep, remote terrain northeast of the Petersburg work station. The mule team, comprised of about 8 mules and 3 horses, is led by veteran packer Ellen Andrews. Ellen works for the U.S. Forest Service out of the Salmon River Work Station located south of Sawyerâ€™s Bar.
Ellen and assistant Dick Eastlick led the mule string out to pack in water and supplies, as well as haul out trash, for crews on the east side of the fire above Rush and McNeil Creeks. The Rush Fire is one of three large, lightning-caused fires on the Uncles Complex; the others being the Uncles and Hancock Fires, located in the Marble Mountain Wilderness.
Andrewsâ€™ mule team is also being considered for use on the Hancock fire because of the steepness of the terrain. Ellen Andrews is a packer who has considerable experience in the Klamath region, â€œIâ€™ve spent a lot of time up in the Hancock area.â€ she said, â€œItâ€™s some of the toughest country out here but itâ€™s also one of my favorite placesâ€.
The Hancock fire is in terrain so steep, that, to date, air operations have been the method of choice for monitoring and combating the fire. As firefighters gain control of the Rush and Uncles Fires more resources may be diverted to the Hancock.
Given the proximity of Ellenâ€™s team to the Uncles complex, and the fact that alfalfa is cheaper than aviation fuel, it looks like the mules may have a jobâ€¦ now whatâ€™s their â€œEâ€ (Equipment) number?