So you think you want to fight wildfires? Here’s a quick test to see if you’ve got what it takes. Load up a backpack with at least 45 pounds of food and water – mostly water – and even a few rocks. This simulates what you’ll be hauling when in a wildland fire situation.
Take yourself out into the mountains, wear the heaviest hiking boots you can find and start walking at a fast clip up the steepest parts of those mountains with that pack on your back. Keep going for 16-18 hours. Stop and rest for 3 hours. Get up and do it again for another 16-18 hours.
Don’t forget to pick up and relocate large logs and small boulders as you bushwhack your way up the mountain and make sure you maintain a steady pace of 3 miles in 45 minutes the entire time you are scaling the mountains like a spider monkey. Don’t forget to fall down a lot, trip and land in large bushes a lot, and go without food and water for long periods of time.
Know there will be no showers, no baths, and a large supply of sleep deprivation. Nap in 5-minute increments, drink as little water as you can without succumbing to full dehydration and having to be airlifted home. Keep doing this for one entire week without any breaks or luxuries.
If you find that you are still alive and in a moderately adequate mood, congratulations! You have what it takes to become a wildland firefighter!
A normal wildland deployment lasts approximately three weeks. That’s three weeks of aggressive terrain, inhumane wear and tear on your body, several cases of gummy bears and cliff bars, and the occasional spit shine bath with an ash-covered towel. In some of the pictures below, you will see me with a soot moustache or a full soot beard. This is my tradition – every time I successfully put out a fire while doing wildland, I give myself a fire ‘stache.