The three-horn blast at the base meant we had a resource order. I’d been tipped off by our dispatch center that there was a potential plane load of hotshot crews headed to Alaska, due to the escalating fire season up north. So when our dispatcher asked if I was ready for an adventure, I knew exactly where the crew was headed.
I’ve spent 10 years as a member of the Redding Interagency Hotshot Crew. Every summer our group of 20 men and women spend 100 or more days in the west fighting wildfires. It’s a tough job, but sometimes it takes us to amazing places. I’ve personally been on a fire in every western state, but never to Alaska. We briefed the crew on our itinerary and gave them time to gather any extra gear they’d need for the trip. We were warned that we could count on three things during this fire assignment: Getting rained on, having wet feet the whole time from the tundra, and getting bit by mosquitoes.
As I packed extra socks and all my rain gear, I thought how nice it would be to chase caribou in Alaska instead of fires, but such is my life during the summer. Since I became a wildland firefighter 14 years ago, my bowhunting time has been cut down considerably. Many of the archery seasons I’d like to hunt fall directly on the peak of most of the western fire season. I do have a lot of downtime during the winter where I can chase waterfowl, so it’s somewhat of an even trade in my book.
The flight into Fairbanks took us over snow-studded mountain ranges, raging chocolate-colored rivers and a landscape covered with lakes and ponds, dotted every so often with moose. We landed at 8:00 p.m. and the sun was still high on the horizon.
My position as Superintendent has me out doing a lot of scouting where the crew will be working, placing fireline, and acting as a lookout, keeping the crew safe by watching their progress in relation to the fire.
I spent plenty of time hiking around on the tundra, which could be described as trying to walk on bowling balls set on a water bed, and weaving my way through thick white and black spruce patches, hoping to not encounter a bear or cow moose with a calf. Lookout had me perched above some impressive river valleys and stunning views of the Alaska Range.
Another hotshot crew encountered a small lake, the shores of which were littered with dozens of moose sheds. Some of the match sets they found were quite impressive.
We spent a total of 23 days in Alaska on a couple different fires. We encountered the rain, wet feet and mosquitos we were warned about, but had a great experience. The assignment tested the crew mentally and physically, but we’d go through it again for the opportunity to spend the time we did in Alaska.
I hope to make it back again someday for a “recreational assignment” with my bow.