The Sierra Blue Cards were flown to Tuscon from Fresno,CA and on arrival laid out on the tarmac of Tuscon International Airport for deployment instructions. We were assigned to a fire northeast of Tucson to the Rincon Mountains burning at approximately 8500 feet elevation. We went to base camp and slept for the night anticipating a helicopter flight in the morning for our shift. It was extremely hot in base camp, above 109 degrees in the shade.
We received our instructions and flew 11 miles to our assignment. Our assignment was for 24 hours so we packed heavy with food and water. The day went well as the fire was more or less contained before we got arrived on scene. We were sent there to mop up the remaining hot spots and keep the fire from crossing existing lines which had been put in the previous day. We worked all day and except for my friend Kevin losing his helmet off a huge rock (he had to hike down a steep hill to retrieve it) it was uneventful. We worked through most of the night with a couple of hours nap and began preparing for our flight back to base camp for rest and re-supply. That was when a storm approached. I found out an Arizona summer shower is something to behold. The Arizona monsoon really packs a punch. The rain came down in buckets and the lightening struck down all around us. It rained for what seemed to be an hour straight. It virtually washed any remaining hot spots off the hill. Scared by the lightening and soaking wet we hiked to the helispot and waited for our ride back to base. While waiting we got word that the storm that just hit us had started new fires on nearby mountains and we wouldn’t be getting a helicopter ride off the mountain. We would have to hike out. As a group we acted nonchalant to this news and prepared ourselves and our gear for a long hike out. We started the hike mid-morning and left the beautiful pine trees and soft duffy ground and soon began to realize that this would be no ordinary hike. After about a half an hour we started to feel a sharp increase in temperature as the shade of the pine trees was leaving us. The ground became harder and more rocks started to appear. We walked and walked trying to make steady progress so that the hike wouldn’t last all day. Some crew members began to feel tired due to the lack of sleep and ever increasing temperature of the approaching lower elevation. People began to run out of water and needed to take longer breaks to regain strength to continue hiking.
Snakes and other desert inhabitants started to show themselves and we new that this place was very different than where we were from. The pines were replaced by cactus and soon all of us were out of water. We hiked for close to 7 hours straight. The hike down the mountain took so long because it wasn’t just walking downhill. We went through many ups and downs, peaks and valleys. The hike was 11 miles all total but the worst mile was saved for the last. We walked the last mile across the Tucson valley floor to base camp. It was brutal. Every man on our crew agreed that it was the worst hike that they had ever been on.
After a deserved shower I was very pleased to see my brother and sister-in-law who lived close by in Tucson had come to visit me. I ate the great cookies Cecelia had made for me and accepted the new socks my brother had brought me but told them that I couldn’t visit for long as I truly felt like I was near to falling asleep just sitting there visiting.
I’ll never forget that hike realizing that present day fire crews aren’t put in situations where there is a good possibility they could go down and possibly die from heat related emergencies. Many men came close on that day. It was a testament to true firefighter brotherhood in how we all shared our water with each other and looked after one another once we realized that this hike was different.
The author has requested to remain anonymous.