Craig Hotshots contain Allred Fire in western Moffat County |

Craig Hotshots contain Allred Fire in western Moffat County

Collin Smith
Virgil Arment, helicopter crew supervisor for the Wyoming High Desert Helitack, joined the Allred Fire for the BLM's initial attack on the fire. Now that crews have contained the flames, he and his seven-person crew plan to return home to re-supply for another deployment.
Hans Hallgren

It can be 100 degrees on the line, even when the fire still burns far away.

Still, crews scurry to dig trenches, pull bushes, chop down trees and haul away wood.

It’s hot, dirty, tiring work.

But, there is no alternative.

Not for nearby landowners who fear their property might go up in smoke and not for some of the men and women who strive to hold the line.

About 100 firefighters and support personnel responded to the Allred Fire this week in western Moffat County. Officially, it got its name from Allred Peak, a hilltop southwest of Sand Wash Basin near the fire’s origin.

Moffat County residents might know about the fire because of the all-red sky that lit up during Monday night’s sunset, an illumination of heat and smoke.

The blaze consumed 2,064 acres before crews from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Moffat County Sheriff’s Office had it 90 percent contained by Wednesday evening.

Thanks in part to those on the line.

The line is where firefighters take a stand. They cut down trees and dig at the ground until there’s no vegetation left.

They have to move quickly, and they have to do it right, or the fire will do exactly what everyone is trying to avoid: spread and consume.

“This area on Tuesday had all the action,” said Hans Casperson, a squad leader for the BLM-sponsored Craig Hotshots fire team. “There was one helicopter after the other dropping buckets and buckets.”

Casperson works with the Hotshots during fire season and skis the rest of the year.

The Hotshots are something of a mercenary group. The government will assign them anywhere in the country they might be needed.

They go, and several of them said they long for the call.

On Wednesday, Casperson’s face was covered in soot and ash, but he didn’t look tired.

He said he wouldn’t know what he’d be doing if not fighting fires.

“Well, they wouldn’t hire me at the Laffy Taffy factory to write jokes,” Casperson said. “I can’t see myself doing anything else but this.”

Neither can T.J. Gholson, Hotshots assistant superintendent, who spent the last few days overseeing about 1,000 acres of Allred and the 50 firefighters working inside, including Casperson.

“I love it,” Gholson said. “A lot of people like to water-ski in the summer. I like to do this. Every boy likes to play in the dirt.”

Later, as he surveyed the charred landscape and smoldering juniper and piñon trees, he took a deep breath and added, “This is our office right here. You couldn’t ask for a better office. It smells like heaven to me.”

As he drove through the territory under his supervision, checking the edges of the fire for any trouble spots, he pointed to this and that section of ground and talked about how they would heal.

In some spots, the fire burned so hot and quick it left nothing but gray dirt and black trunks, appearing like a terrestrial moonscape.

Those areas will have to wait awhile before they’re healthy again.

Other places had a mosaic pattern, a mix of burned and unburned that will encourage new grasses and trees to sprout before too long. These areas will be greener and more diverse, which is a more sustainable habitat in the long run, Gholson said.

This is his second year with the Craig Hotshots, though Gholson has been a wildland firefighter for 13 years, including several years as a smokejumper in Alaska.

He said he knew in his first year that he wanted to be a firefighter for life. That was going to be his career, not the thousands of other things he could have done.

“There’s just a lot of action, and the camaraderie between us is big, too,” Gholson said. “Coming from playing team sports, this is the ultimate team sport.”

Mark Frickel, a 23-year-old recent college graduate who worked at Allred with the BLM Wyoming High Desert District Helitack, had a slightly different take.

Frickel said he fell into firefighting when he worked at Custer State Park to put himself through school at the University of Nebraska.

But, he got a taste and wanted more.

“It’s hard work, but it’s satisfying,” Frickel said. “There’s really no glory in it. You’re out there in the woods and no one can really see what you’re doing. You do it just because you want to; you want to help people and you don’t mind working hard.”

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