National Geographic Adventure
For the past 19 years, the fireground has been both a workplace and a source of inspiration for wildland firefighter and author Peter M. Leschak. His experience working dangerousand regenerativeblazes has provided the material for many of his eight books, including his newest release, Ghosts of the Fireground, excerpted in the August 2002 issue of Adventure. [Audio excerpts of Leschak's book: Go >>]
Leschack, 51, finds time to write about his profession during winters at his Side Lake, Minnesota home, where he lives with his wife. The latter seven months of the year he devotes to his other lovefire. Spring and fall, he serves on an engine crew in Side Lake, and in the summer, he transfers four hours north to the Grand Marais Helibase, where he commands a ten-member helicopter-borne initial-attackor "helitack"team.
When called into action, Leschak's crew flies to a fire and immediately engages it on the ground, while the pilot drops 320-gallon buckets of water on the inferno. This year, Leschak's helitack crew was dispatched to the Hayman Fire, where they spent 11 days in Colorado working the 138,000-acre blaze.
Here, Leschak takes time off from his work at Grand Marais Helibase, where he is often on-call 12 days at a time during the summer, to tackle questions about the Hayman fire, what it takes to be a wildland firefighter, and the fine line he walks between thrill and fear.
NG: Can you describe your helitack crew's experience at the Hayman Fire?
PL: My helicopter and crew acted in a support roletransporting cargo and troops, establishing helispots [helicopter landing areas], doing aerial recons, and dropping water.
How do you feel about people purposefully setting fires to obtain work?
Two instances of anything don't make a trend, but there is a history of firefighters starting fires, just as there are instances of cops dealing drugs and accountants cooking the books at major corporations.
How does this fire season compare to that of 2000, 2001?
It's too early to tell. Our service at the Hayman Fire was fairly routine, at least by our standards. But the fires in Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico are as intense as they get.
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