It is four thirty in the morning and fire camp rumbles with sounds.
Firefighters come and go in the predawn darkness, their boots smacking on the hard ground. Generators hum noisily, providing electricity to the lights that penetrate the smoky darkness. Laundresses crawl out of their tents to work the 5 am shift. The kitchen staff has been up for hours preparing a hot breakfast.
Each incident command post, commonly called “fire camp”, is its own little city.
The post has showers, food, medics, lodging, laundry and much more; providing all the necessities to the people temporarily living in the camp. The command post runs on a highly-efficient but grueling schedule, with little time to rest.
Fire-fighting helicopters, bull dozers and other heavy equipment fire support fill the camp.
For Teresa, working at fire camp is a “fun” job that allows her take a break from technology and feel like she contributes to a greater good.
She worked California fire support several times over the past few years at the Salmon-August Complex, the Tubbs fire, and the Camp Fire in Chico, California.
This year, when she got the opportunity to work at one of the incident command posts for the August Complex, she jumped at the chance to go.
Teresa arrived at the Eel River fire camp near Garberville, California on September 16th. She worked there for a few days before being transferred to Ukiah, California where she works laundry from 2pm – 11pm.
What is the August Complex?
The August Complex is a huge wildfire in northern California in the Mendocino National Forest. Currently encompassing 870,200 acres, the August fire complex is only 43% contained, and is not predicted to be fully contained until mid-November.
As of this writing, the fire is over a month old, having started on August 17 due to a lightning strike.
The August Complex is “the largest wildfire in California history.” The fire is so large that it has been divided into three zones with separate incident command posts, with the fire camp in Ukiah acting as headquarters. Click here for more detailed information and updates on the fire.
What Does Teresa Do At Fire Camp?
Teresa’s job at the August Complex fire camp is doing laundry. Yep, I’m not kidding!
Firefighters and all the support teams needed to run fire camp generate a huge amount of dirty laundry. Each Cal-Fire incident command post has a laundry crew. The laundry workers generally have eight or nine-hour shifts each day.
Doing laundry at fire camp is not quite as easy as doing laundry at home. The laundry units are large trailers that run on generators. The water for laundry is stored in huge bags that can hold around 200 gallons of water.
These videos from the Chico fire camp in 2018 give a tour of a typical fire camp and explain how the mobile laundry units work.
To learn more about Teresa’s past experiences working at fire camp, go to her blog about the Salmon-August Complex and Tubbs Fire.
A normal day for Teresa at the August Complex means working a non-stop nine-hour shift from 2pm to 11pm.
She gets her meals at the dining area where breakfast and dinner are served for everyone. A mobile shower units are also available for support staff staying in camp
Fortunately, instead of living in a tent, this year Teresa is living in her new travel van! She bought the used van during the summer, then renovated it and outfitted it to be her new home away from home
For Teresa, doing laundry at fire camp is much more than just a job. It is a small way to make an impact fighting against the forest fires that consume California every year.
So far over 3.5 million acres have burned in California this year, breaking the previous state record. At least 26 people have died, and many more are missing or injured. This has been a bad year for wildfires not just in California, but in Oregon and Washington as well.
The author, Cassandra Sigmon, works as a content writer, copywriter, and support team member at Sew Like a Pro™.