Mules on the Orleans Complex
Incident: Orleans Complex Wildfire
Seven pack mules from the Shasta-Trinity National Forest are being staged at the Wooley Creek Trailhead. These intelligent, strong animals are providing invaluable support to the Orleans Complex.
A typical mule team, called a ‘string’, consists of five mules and a lead horse. Mules look similar to horses – they are the offspring of a female horse (mare) and male donkey (jack) – but have longer ears, a shorter and stronger back, more durable feet, better peripheral vision, and require less food and water. They are a cautious animal, and each can carry 160 – 200 lbs. of gear.
During a typical field season the mules have a regular delivery route and pack in food, supplies and equipment to crews working in the wilderness. There are 18 mules on the Trinity Alps unit and often several mule strings travel together. During an incident, such as the Orleans Complex, the mule's load is varied and can include items such as fire hose, pumps, nozzles, fuel tanks, and supplies for firefighters who are camped out. They will pack in needed supplies including water, MREs (meals ready to eat), drip-torches and other firefighting equipment to firefighters preparing the heritage site to withstand a potential threat of fire.
Mule Teams at Wooley Creek/Joe Mathias
Trails are treacherous and these sure-footed mules on a typical day journey 20 to 30 miles. In one load, a string of mules can carry an amount that would require 10 to 12 helicopter flights. Since mules can travel almost anywhere, they can carry supplies directly to the firefighters, saving time and energy for fighting the fire. The Haypress Fire is in a wilderness area and the use of mules for transportation is compatible with wilderness values.
Historically, mules were the traditional way to move supplies and equipment throughout northern California. In the 1930’s there were over 1,000 mules used by the U. S. Forest Service. However, as road systems improved, the use of mule strings declined substantially. Currently, there are approximately 100 mules used by the Forest Service.