Protecting Historic Cabins During the 2014 Coffee Fire
Incident: Coffee Fire Wildfire
On Saturday, August 2, a group of smokejumpers was flown to the Coffee Fire which had grown to approximately 1,000 acres. From the air, they identified the land around Hodges Cabin as a suitable jump spot. According to jumper boss Nate Hess, “It was a tight spot, but not uncommon for the kinds of places we jump into.” A group of 6 smokejumpers from Redding landed, assessed the site, and determined that the other module of 8 smokejumpers who had flown with them was not needed due to logistical challenges and potentially hazardous conditions. The Redding smokejumpers spent 2 hours clearing vegetation to prepare the site for burn out operations. They were then flown back to the helibase, equipped with vehicles, and went to the ICP where they developed the burn out plan with the Operations Section. “After being in there, we knew we had a mission. We really wanted to go save the cabin,” said Joey Maggio. They gathered equipment and headed to Coffee Creek. The jumpers arrived at the trailhead at 11:00 pm and hiked in with each person carrying about 90 pounds of gear, including pumps, drip torches, hose, and supplies. They reached Hodges Cabin by 1:30 am. Between 6:00 am and 9:00 am on Sunday morning, they set up a pump system, watered down the structures, scraped a 6 foot wide handline, and completed light fuels reduction 25 to 40 feet out from the structures.
At 9:00 am the inversion began to lift and the smokejumpers spent the next 2 hours firing. The timing was calculated to take advantage of the upslope winds which pushed the burn toward the oncoming Coffee Fire. A 400 yard buffer was created behind the historic structures. This burned out area became an anchor point which began the process of securing the western side of the fire. It also provided a safety zone. Rolls of fire resistant material were flown in later to Hodges Cabin to wrap the structures, but wrapping did not end up being necessary at this site. Crews continued to use Hodges cabin as a spike camp, with logistical support provide
Wolford Cabin Later in the fire progression, attention turned toward the protection of Wolford Cabin located to the north of the Coffee Fire near the top of Wolford Gulch in the Scott Mountains. This drainage was vulnerable to up-canyon winds which could carry the fire directly toward the cabin. The north part of the fire was in very steep terrain but became more accessible after a thunderstorm late Monday night lessened the intensity of the fire behavior. Smoke limited visibility making it difficult to see Wolford Cabin initially. It was not possible to land a helicopter at the cabin site, but Helitak Crew 523 from Salmon, Idaho was eventually inserted and was able to wrap the cabin on Wednesday, August 6. The cabin was completely wrapped, except for the fire resistant metal roof. To reach the top of the cabin walls, a ladder had to be built using nails found at the site. After the cabin was wrapped, the site was used as a spike camp for the next 4 days to support several crews that were tasked with direct fire line construction on the northern edge of the Coffee Fire. The crews were flown to the Pacific Crest Trail ridgelines above Wolford Creek and hiked down to the cabin. Supplies were brought in to the spike camp by a pack train of mules that was based at Carter Meadow. “We did some things differently because we were in the wilderness,” said Division Supervisor Jason Kraling. “We kept the handline as narrow as possible, only clearing what was needed to stop the creeping fire. Instead of opening up the canopy by falling individual trees, we only removed the lower limbs to eliminate the ladder fuels and reduce the chance of a crown fire.” Two trees were cut, however, as part of the medical plan to ensure a medevac hoist could be lowered by helicopter if an injured firefighter needed to be extracted. Other challenges included sleeping on steep slopes which was mitigated by scraping out flat areas. In addition to protecting Wolford Cabin, containment of the north side of the fire protected grazing cattle, and a youth camp on a private inholding in the wilderness where almost 100 campers were staying. Regarding the operations at both Hodges and Wolford Cabin, the role of the pack strings in providing supplies to the crews can’t be over emphasized. “In this terrain, without mules, we could not have been as successful,” said Bruce Carlisle, Operations Section Chief. “They were a critical resource on this incident.”