The smoke chaser pack carried by Bridgeport Ranger District firefighters in the 1960s included a Pulaski, shovel, canteen, headlight for hardhat, rations, first-aid kit, snakebite kit, map, and other useful odds and ends.
One July 1962 evening a motorist southbound on U.S. Highway 395 drove into the Bridgeport Ranger Station to report a fire high in the crags above Devils Gate Summit. Second-year forestry aide Dick and rookie I were dispatched to the fire in a pickup into which we loaded two smoke chaser packs and two five-gallon water packs. We drove north, spotted the smoke, parked off the highway, put on our hardhats, strapped on our smoke chaser packs, and began the climb up steep rocky slopes toward the fire.
About forty minutes of climbing later we reached the fire. It wasn’t much as fires go—a large Jeffrey pine snag, a few smaller pines and junipers, and some mountain mahogany burning here, smoldering there, and smoking everywhere. But it had potential, and we attacked it with whatever vigor our steep climb had left us.
Once we had a line around the fire, Dick advised the ranger station by radio that we had it contained and controlled. As we began mopping it up, Dick commented on some real hot spots and allowed “We sure could use some water on this job before it gets dark.”
Knowing we meant me, I gazed at the pickup far below. There the two water packs waited. “I’ll go get it.”
“Right,” Dick agreed, and added as I started down the mountain, “Bring both of ‘em.”
Both of them! Water weighs eight pounds a gallon. Ten gallons of water weight eighty pounds, twice as much as a smoke chaser pack. I knew I was in for a long crawl-and-a-half back up the mountain with those two water packs.
It was dark by the time this firefighter had scrambled back to the fire with that ten gallons of water. It was cold by the time the two firefighters had used that water to cool off the last of the hot spots inside their fire line. It was darn cold by the time the two firefighters, who knew better than to try to get off those crags at night, had kindled a small fire inside their fire line to heat their canned rations, boil water for coffee, and warm their hands. And it was colder still when, at first light, they declared the fire out, shouldered their gear, and made their way off the crags toward the pickup, Bridgeport, and a hot two-dollar breakfast on Uncle Sam at the Sportsman’s Inn as it opened for the day.