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  • MALE SPEAKER: Once you do it, you feel that adrenaline rush,

  • and you're on it until the end.

  • And you see it put to bed, and do some of the mop up, get it

  • cleaned up and rehab.

  • Once you get a season of that, it's in your blood, and

  • there's nothing else.

  • MALE SPEAKER: While the rest of the country is flipping its

  • lid over cyber crime, illegal aliens, and mutagenic fuel

  • gases, the Pacific Northwest still spends its summers

  • struggling with mankinds first and oldest enemy, fire, In the

  • last decade, hundreds of thousands of forest fires have

  • scorched 5.5 million acres of American land.

  • The average Oregon summer sees 561 wildfires damage 16,000

  • acres of often pristine forest, causing mind boggling

  • damage and devastation.

  • Last month we travel to Medford, Oregon to team up

  • with a firefighting crew from Grayback Forestry.

  • Their job is to amble right up to a roaring blaze and dig a

  • line around it, to choke the fire to death.

  • When there isn't a fire going, they cut back and relax by

  • walking up the side of a 45 degree cliff and clearing out

  • old underbrush, which provides fuel for these fires.

  • They're easily the hardest working

  • people in tree business.

  • THOMAS: Hey, it's Thomas.

  • It's five in the morning or something.

  • We're in Oregon, in a parking lot.

  • We're about to go into the forest and tear down trees so

  • that other trees don't catch fire.

  • The checkerboard.

  • MALE SPEAKER: Motor service, wilderness.

  • White is private, and the yellow is [INAUDIBLE].

  • SHANE STANCLIFF: Today the unit we're on now is in Rogue

  • River, which is a 45 minute drive.

  • It changes every different unit usually every week, or

  • every other week.

  • Now you've got to grab oil and stuff for the chainsaws.

  • THOMAS: Yeah

  • We've got to file into this giant box on the back of a

  • pickup that they call a [INAUDIBLE].

  • I'm guessing for good reason.

  • It feels dumb, I mean these guys get up every morning at

  • this hour, but I feel like physically shaken.

  • Just not used to 5 o'clock.

  • It's probably a healthier way of doing things.

  • All right, I guess we've got to get in truck right now.

  • Somewhere around 5:30, 5:45, we'll load up the trucks that

  • we're taking out to the unit.

  • Get everything ready, make sure the tools are in there,

  • make sure we got enough fuel, and bio oil.

  • Then we'll all head out.

  • About 6 o'clock we leave the shop, and depending on how

  • far, usually a half hour to an hour it takes us

  • to get to the unit.

  • CRAIG FRANSISCO: You really get to know the

  • guys you work with.

  • Everyone's about the same age, and has the same interests.

  • I mean, we're working outside, so everyone loves the hiking.

  • If they're not into mountain biking, they're into like ATV

  • riding, or dirt biking.

  • Everyone fishes, likes camping.

  • So it's easy to get along with everyone, everyone's down to

  • earth and has the same interests.

  • Our oxygen tank is usually handkerchief over us.

  • And if you're smart about it and the smoke's going at you,

  • you just kind of step aside for a minute and let it pass

  • as the wind shifts if you can.

  • It's kind of rough.

  • Like I said, last year was my first season.

  • I didn't really have a long period away.

  • But it's like you're gone, you miss your family, and your

  • wife misses you and wants you home.

  • We did a fire here in town, in Roxy Ann's mountain.

  • Probably a two day night shift is what I did, and

  • then that was out.

  • Before we come into something like this,

  • we'll have a briefing.

  • And whoever's like the incident commander of the fire

  • at the time will kind of tell us what to expect, what to

  • look out for.

  • We don't just show up and just like start running

  • at it with our tools.

  • Here's a fire, let's put it out.

  • They usually have a pretty good plan.

  • Usually we'll do the bucket drops with the helicopters.

  • Dropping water on them, dropping retardant on them to

  • slow it down when it gets [INAUDIBLE].

  • It's a real kind of slimy, slick kind of wet material

  • that they'll drop and it gets everything red.

  • So once the flame does get to it, it slows it down enough to

  • let us work a little bit more in this area.

  • And finally once you get the line dug around it, you'll get

  • the hose down there and you start the perimeter.

  • Like we're here on the line, and the fire was right here.

  • If they had the water, it slows it down.

  • We'll just start in 10 feet, and we'll scrape everything

  • hot back in.

  • We'll spread the pieces out,

  • extinguish the flames ourselves.

  • That's like basically our job is to get what we can with the

  • tools and make the fire go out.

  • Things will grow back, and if you guys were here a few

  • months earlier this would've been green.

  • Over time there'll be some new trees.

  • Don't know if you're allergic or not, okay, there's an Epi

  • Kit on the dash my truck with the hazmat.

  • So if you get stung let me know and I'll let you jack

  • yourself up.

  • THOMAS: So we basically just walked to the job site and

  • we're all already beat.

  • It's a lot more vertical than I'm used to

  • things being this early.

  • Our camera guy puked.

  • I'm actually kind of jealous of him, because I've still got

  • the full night's pizza sitting on my stomach.

  • The tree dust is playing hell with my sinuses.

  • JESSE KIENE: See I just imagine the fire moving

  • uphill, gets into this brush and then you have your lower,

  • your smaller mid-canopy, and then it just carries in the

  • large trees.

  • So what the cutters are doing is they're coming up below us

  • here, working up the hill, and they're taking pretty much the

  • smaller trees.

  • Keeping it to a spacing so they're not just

  • clearing the forest.

  • We're trying to manually recreate what a fire would do.

  • THOMAS: This is the first time I've seen Shane kind of sit.

  • And it's been like an hour and a half of just straight

  • walking uphill, with saw, destroying

  • trees right and left.

  • SHANE STANCLIFF: This is easy.

  • I mean, we get higher up, and it's like, a lot of rocks and

  • like the whole ground, you'll just take one step up and

  • three steps down.

  • So it's tough.

  • THOMAS: I am carrying my body weight in forestry supplies,

  • going down to 50 degree incline to chop down some

  • shrubs so forest fire doesn't destroy this.

  • CRAIG FRANSISCO: That happens a lot, even with us, dude.

  • THOMAS: Slowly getting less enamored of this job.

  • CRAIG FRANSISCO: Thank you.

  • Thanks for carrying it out here.

  • THOMAS: I really feel kind of worthless compared to these

  • guys, but I know if I had like a chainsaw in hand I'd just be

  • like getting caught in tress right and left.

  • Having the blade just suck down into everything I touch.

  • I'm going to leave this for the real guy.

  • JAKE ADAMS: I've been doing this for roughly three years.

  • I started back in '07, just moved up here.

  • I had been teaching for a little while outside of Reno.

  • One day I realized that I wasn't there for the kids, I

  • was there for a paycheck.

  • And I always told myself but if I found myself teaching in

  • that kind of situation, that I have no business being there.

  • I'd always wanted to get involved with firefighting, so

  • came on out, thought I'd give it a shot.

  • I do enjoy fighting fire.

  • I love doing that part of the job.

  • However, if we can mitigate them before it comes down to

  • getting to a big point, then I think we're

  • better off that way.

  • But you're with the same guys, the same 20 people, for 14

  • days, possibly even 21 days at a time.

  • And if you have thin skin, and you can't take a joke, then

  • you're going to have trouble.

  • But yeah, so everyone really tries, and I think especially

  • nowadays we've been able to really nice and lighthearted

  • while staying safe out in the woods and it's been great.

  • And I'm loving it right now.

  • It's cheaper than a gym membership.

  • THOMAS: Feels brisk.

  • At least I chose today to wear probably the

  • gayest underwear I own.

  • MALE SPEAKER: Is your belt strapped?

  • THOMAS: OK.

  • MALE SPEAKER: Now you want it ride low.

  • THOMAS: Yeah?

  • Oh OK.

  • I'm currently dressed like a Frosted Mini Wheats version of

  • a forest firefighter, and we're going

  • to go dig some line.

  • There's not a fire right now, but it is good practice.

  • Line is basically a ditch you surround a fire with and then

  • it can't get over there.

  • TIM HENAGIN: You're not trying to do the whole line by

  • yourself, you're going to come along and do this, just a

  • [INAUDIBLE].

  • It's pretty much like this, move a little bit, like that,

  • move a little bit like that.

  • MALE SPEAKER: Cutters are the first one in cutting line.

  • And then the swampers come, they clear everything out.

  • And then the diggers come behind them

  • and dig a fire line.

  • MALE SPEAKER: You're about two minutes into it.

  • THOMAS: Yeah?

  • And you keep doing this for how long?

  • MALE SPEAKER: 16 hours sometimes.

  • THOMAS: Oh my God.

  • This is extraordinarily hard work.

  • It's impossible to keep my eye on where I'm hitting

  • and where I'm going.

  • And that's with no fire in front of me.

  • MALE SPEAKER: In the yoke.

  • MALE SPEAKER: What do you think?

  • THOMAS: That's a bit laborious.

  • That's about what like a 50th of your average shift?

  • MALE SPEAKER: Oh yeah, at least, that was

  • probably six minutes.

  • THOMAS: How much distance did we cover?

  • MALE SPEAKER: A hundred feet maybe.

  • Seven hours we'll do 10,000 plus feet.

  • THOMAS: 100 times that.

  • MALE SPEAKER: We started getting it pretty good right

  • before we quit, we were spaced out perfect.

  • MALE SPEAKER: Having fun?

  • THOMAS: Yeah.

  • MALE SPEAKER: Not bad for a rookie, Tom.

  • THOMAS: Thank you.

  • Appreciate that.

  • MALE SPEAKER: We'd take you on the crew.

  • THOMAS: That'd be short lived I think.

  • [LAUGHTER]

  • MALE SPEAKER: Oh you'd be surprised.

  • I've been working in the woods all my life.

  • I started out logging, it's like coming

  • full circle for me.

  • I've cut the trees down, the big timber, and set the

  • chokers, hauled them out of the woods, and done a little

  • bit of planting.

  • Now I'm back thinning it out and help prevent wild fire.

  • You want to use back here from here back on your saw.

  • THOMAS: Never the top.

  • MALE SPEAKER: Yeah the closer you get to here when you're

  • limbing, the more chance you have a kick back.

  • And remember you always want to wrap this thumb around the

  • handle bar.

  • Don't cut with it up there like

  • that, you have no control.

  • With kickback, this will come right out of your hand.

  • When you grab that chainsaw, you mold on it, it becomes

  • part of your body.

  • One of the things that turn my stomach most

  • is a chainsaw cut.

  • It cuts quick and to the bone, and when it stops those teeth

  • pull everything out.

  • And just imagine doing that all day.

  • The key to happiness out here is a sharp chain.

  • MALE SPEAKER: All right, now the fun part.

  • THOMAS: I am sore, and sweaty, and ant bitten.

  • I've got sawdust in my mouth.

  • I've got chips under my eyelids.

  • I've got weird vibrationally numbed

  • fingers from the chainsaw.