US Forest Service - River Complex Fire

Start Date: 2021-08-26

Description: SUMMARY: I overhead this at Coffee Creek Strike Camp shortly after the night crew arrived from their shift. "Have you ever seen anyone come off night shift and smile? Look at him smiling at that dog." This 3-day deployment was a continuation of the first ever request by the US Forest Service for HOPE teams. (Last week 3 teams deployed to the Antelope Fire.) The USFS requested HOPE teams because fire crews have been working for weeks on the River Complex fires in very challenging terrain in extreme heat with little progress on a stubborn fire that continues to grow. All personnel, especially the fire crews, were becoming very discouraged. Deployment days for HOPE teams were long, hot and dirty but extremely satisfying. The dogs slept during all travel times. Tony (POC) was our escort for all three days. Day1: Met POC at 6:30 am at Base Camp in Etna, CA. Teams were immediately surrounded by personnel seeking time with the dogs. During the 7:00 briefing Tony introduced the teams (by human and dog names) and encouraged everyone to stop by and meet the dogs. (They did.) Tony escorted us to every part of the camp and introduced us to almost every person working that day from command to contracted services. The dogs were warmly welcomed, petted and hugged by just about everyone. Trading cards were a big hit. Dogs got periodic small breaks and a 3-hour break midday returning to our motels before going to White's Gulch Strike Camp 40 minutes away where we met the evening shift of firefighters as they prepared to leave for the fire line. Fire camps rarely receive visitors and when people saw the dogs they reacted with surprise and huge grins, often hurrying over to meet the dogs who were warmly welcomed and greatly appreciated. We returned to Base Camp for evening briefing. Departure at 7:30 pm. Day 2: Met at Base Camp at 5:45 am to go to Coffee Creek Strike Camp 45 minutes away. With Tony we decided the most efficient way to meet the maximum number of firefighters with minimal stress for the dogs was to be at camp before day crews left and night crews returned. Again the dogs were warmly welcomed, hugged and petted, and trading cards were in high demand. One firefighter broke into tears while petting the dogs saying she missed her dog so terribly and this made her feel much better. We took small breaks at the fire camp and a midday break at our motels from noon to 6:00 pm when we returned to base camp for evening brief and more visits. Departure at 8:00 pm. Day 3: Departure from Base Camp at 5:30 am to Cecilville Strike Camp and, after a break for the dogs, to a small local airport 13 miles from Base Camp where the helicopter crews were based. Again, everyone was so happy to see the dogs, especially the helicopter crews who were isolated from all other camps and received no visitors. Midday break at 1:30 so we returned to our motels. When we returned to Base Camp at 6:30 pm everyone was sad to hear it was the dogs' last visit; a few tears were shed. Some individuals who had connected with the dogs every time we had been at Base camp (they sought us out) reported that the dogs' visits had been the best experience they'd had since arriving. Many said they had put the trading cards on the walls of their offices. People who hadn't gotten a trading card earlier made sure they had a complete set (so they could play with a full deck). The Incident Commander said the dogs had been a great boost for everyone and that he wanted more teams to return.

Agency: US Forest Service
Teams: Lisa McCoy & Roma (PSW), Sandy Sotelo & Zeke (PNW)