Firefighting Not Glamorous Job Marines Expected
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (AP) _ The Marines moved in, ready to do battle. What they found, however, when they arrived to fight wildfires in Yellowstone National Park was dirty, back- breaking, often-boring work.
″We just wanted to go at it. We’re ready to go in there right up against it,″ said Lance Cpl. Earl Martin, of Bay City, Texas.
Martin is with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., which arrived in Yellowstone last week and was moved to the fire lines after intensive training sessions.
The Yellowstone fires, which have been burning for three months, have consumed more than 1 million acres of the 2.2 million-acre park in northwestern Wyoming. Rain, snow and cooler weather have curbed their spread during the last 10 days, but as recently as two weeks ago the blazes threatened structures at the Old Faithful complex and two Montana towns adjacent to the park.
On Wednesday, National Park Service officials said cool and moist weather kept the fires from spreading, but drier weather expected later this week could burn new areas again.
When regular fire crews were stretched thin all across the West, Army troops, and then Marines, were sent to Yellowstone. There now are 1,200 Marines and 2,000 Army troops on the fire lines in Yellowstone.
But the job has not been what the Marines anticipated. They expected a toe- to-toe battle with a forest inferno. They found the dirty job of mop-up, a term for strengthening fire lines and searching out and extinguishing hot spots in burned forest.
Later, they will work to rehabilitate areas cleared for fire lines - wastelands deliberately created to deprive the approaching flames of fuel. The rehabilitation effort includes erosion control and sifting ash and dirt to erase signs of human activity.
It’s not glamorous work.
″It is important, maybe the most important, but we’d like to see some kick up,″ said Marine Cpl. Greg Crowe of San Diego.
The Marines said it was their first non-military assignment, and they have traded their trademark camouflage field uniforms for green and yellow firefighter outfits.
The part they’ve found most to their liking so far is the food, catered by a Lander, Wyo., company called New-Way.
″We’d like them to contract to do our food,″ said Lance Cpl. Michael McLoone, of Wilmington, Calif. ″We never eat this good, not even in the barracks.″
U.S. Forest Service fire commanders were uneasy when soldiers and Marines first were dispatched to Yellowstone because of their inexperience at firefighting, officials said.
″People were apprehensive. They had no training and they’re too young,″ said Rex Mann, planning chief for the Greater Yellowstone Area Command. ″But their discipline and command structure paid off,″ he said. ″I’m impressed and I probably will use them again.″
Yellowstone has been a cold-weather exercise for the Marines, who have had to scrape snow off their tents and brush ice from their equipment.
Marine Maj. Jack Carter had spent most of his summers in the park since he was a boy, staying with his grandparents and parents in West Yellowstone, Mont., so he was able to fill in his superiors on the weather the Marines would face.
″We brought our longjohns,″ he said.
Carter said coming back to Yellowstone and seeing some of it charred and smoking ″hit pretty hard when I first saw it.″
″At first, you’re devastated when you drive in,″ he said. ″It’s a shame that lots of people for lots of years won’t see the park at its best.″
Carter said he never noticed the build-up of dead and fallen trees over the years, an accumulation that contributed greatly to the hot, fast-moving fires. ″When you’re walking on trails you never notice. It’s the American mentality, I think - litter on the side of the road.″
The Marines will be in Yellowstone at least until Oct. 15, which suits Carter fine.
″I love this park,″ he said. ″It never gets old.″