Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2005 Fire

   It was towards the end of May and a week into some unusually hot weather for that time of year.  It was so hot in fact I had decided to drive to town for supplies that afternoon. Normally I wouldn't consider it but the vehicle I had at the time had a good air conditioner and was the only reason I left home that day.
Somewhere on the return trip I stopped to pick up Stevie, who had been working peeling logs for a few days and was looking to catch a ride back home to Rogers Creek.
"Whoa, nice air" he commented, slamming the door and strapping himself in.
   I suppose it was around the 32 km marker on the gravel road a broken up message came from someone on the road over my two way radio. ""
A hundred images went through my mind and I stomped the Yukon into passing gear and Stevie held on with both hands. As we rocketed along the gravel road hitting the high spots the reception improved and I was able to talk with Art Frank who had been driving by and noticed smoke on the hillside across the road from the hot spring. Well that put my mind at ease some as a fire on the hillside was better than one on my foundation, but somewhere you don't want a fire getting started is on private land as you can be liable for costs.
As we work our way down the valley in certain spots we are able to see smoke in the distance, which doesn't help my blood pressure one bit. In no time at all I skidded up next to Art's truck and get my first on scene look. There is heavy smoke and crackling in the area of the pictographs and was rapidly spreading up the steep mountainside. Optimistic as hell, I figured we could still get a handle on the situation and spun the Yukon around and headed back to the lodge, gathering up all the shovels and fire fighting tools I had as well as a couple of metal canister squirt cans that seemed to take an excruciatingly long time to fill from the garden hose.
   When I got back at the fire there had been some people from down the road at Skatin' arrived with hoes and shovels after hearing the news. I spread the tools around and shoved one of the squirt cans at a surprised and unenthusiastic Nick, whom immediately realized he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
I took the other can and shouted "Follow me!", then charged off leaping and running directly for the growing inferno and disappeared into the smoke. I felt the only hope was to get the pitifully small amount of water in the extinguishers to the head, or front of the fire, as fast as we could, then with a coordinated effort slow the flames a little and then the crew with the shovels, hoes and rakes would arrive and get on the trouble spots. At least that was the idea until I happened to look back in mid leap to notice there was no one behind me.
   So on I stumbled up this steep bloody mountainside, over smoking  burnt ground, on a hot day, and packing a 4 gallon pump can that gets heavier with each aching uphill step and I'm having hard time not stepping on my tongue. 
There was a lot at stake, and the stress of a situation that could get badly out of hand. 
I kept pressing on up the hillside trying to get ahead of the flame front. I could see it up head about to break over a narrow ledge it looked like, possibly it would slow it enough for me to get there. By the time I reached the edge of the narrow bench I was huffing and puffing and sweating and swearing only to find the flames had hit the steep slope and were picking up momentum. I could see it was beyond the squirt can stage, and we were going to have to bring in the pro's.  I squirted about half the can of water down my throat, and dumped the rest then started back down the rocky hillside, which was a big improvement over the uphill route I had just taken. I began to meet up with some of the younger guys, hacking and hoeing at hot spots here and there in an organized manner. 
"Going to have to call in the troops" I told them on the way by.
 I broke out of the smoke onto the road coughing to see quite a crowd has gathered, with some campers from the hot spring, and area residents coming to give a hand from as far away a Tipella, 30 miles away at the head of Harrison Lake.  I raced back to the lodge and walked out into an open area with the satellite phone and called the BC Wildfire Line.
There had been a fire on the property once before under my watch, and I knew how things would unfold.
   In a few hours several forestry officials arrived asking all kinds of questions which were followed awhile later with several truck loads of crew  from the fire base in Pemberton, comprised of mostly first nation fire fighters. This was their first call of the season. The hot spring was the seasons first call for another crew 11 years before, after I had been burning some slash piles around here (with a permit) in 1994 and lit half the country on fire and had to 'call in the troops' then, costing many thousands of dollars. But that is another story.
 I showed the pumper crew the way over to a suitable site at the river for their intake and pump.
"The same place we used last time!" I told them.
They get all set up in an hour or so, with no little amount of unwanted assistance from me. There is a main hose stretched from the river across the airstrip clearing and across the road right of way to the base of the hill, where there is a splitter that feeds several fire hoses that go up the mountain side. It had been late afternoon when it was called in, so it was after dark when the crew finished setting up and I figure the serious fire fighting was about to start.
They all piled into their vehicles and drive off. 
"We'll be back out at eight tomorrow." the fire boss said.
   That night myself and some people from the campsite sat out on the airstrip and had a ringside seat for the spectacular 'fireworks' on the mountainside. It is impressive to experience, but difficult to watch. You can hear the groan  of huge trees falling, and boulders that come free, crashing their way downhill.
Flames reach far into the sky, and ash rains down upon us.
   I was out on the airstrip at sun up the next day expecting to see most of the mountain on fire, but the cool of the night had damped things enough that it hadn't really spread much over night, and is still contained within  the property boundaries. Soon I could hear the sound of a helicopter arriving and they did a few tight circles over the fire before setting down in the front yard. They mentioned they had concerns about the notorious wind from down valley we can get, which could whip the fire up, sending it into the endless tracts of adjacent crown forest. Soon the ground crew returned and the pump master fired up his machine, and the guys headed up the hill. Other helicopters began to arrive, setting up a fire base out front, with ambulance, fuel truck and support personnel. Bringing the number to 3 helicopters, plus the smaller Bell 206 the officials used. 
I could see the cost was adding up pretty quick, and my palms began to sweat.

 Picking a monsoon bucket up on a long line
 A short hop over to the river to fill it. No small feat in a fast moving current.

Another short hop to the fire and drop. They could do 6 minute cycle times from the river to the fire and back, putting thousands of litres/gallons on site.

On day two there was a real concern about projected high winds in the afternoon. I was informed a decision was made to put the water bombers on standby at the Conair base in Abbotsford.
At mid-day, the planes were ordered to fire up and head for lot 1747.
Things were really starting to add up fast, I hope they take plastic.
It takes the trio of Firecat tankers probably 45 minutes flying time to get here. Meanwhile, ground crews are brought down and the area cleared.  
The 'bird dog' plane arrives first, he has a good look at the situation and the best way for the bombers to attack the fire. The droning twin engine tankers orbit over head as the he swoops in passing over the fire showing by example and then the large bombers follow suit in turn.

Firecat water bomber rolling in on target.

The Firecats returned to base to re-fill with retardant and came back a second time to wash the area down. Ground crews moved back in and the bucket equipped helicopters resumed activities.
   The fuel guys and some support crew commented on what a wonderful spot this was to fight a fire from. There is a nice grassy airstrip, with a river right next to the fire, and mentioned how they often don't get to see the actual fire fighting, they usually get stuck at some hot dusty staging area miles from the actual fire. Here they could sit on the bench over at my fire pit with a cool breeze off the river and enjoy the airshow.

  After 4 days the helicopters moved on, leaving the ground crew to mop up. There would be an investigation into how the fire started, and a specialist was brought in from Victoria. There had been concerns over the pictographs (native rock paintings). Once the area was secured myself, a representative from the Inshuckch nation and  forestry official went into the area to see how the pictographs had fared. The moss around them was all charred up when the fire had swept by, but the paintings themselves were unharmed.

  I had to wonder what might have transpired if I had of been home. If I had seen the beginnings of smoke over there, which is likely, it probably could have been handled then with out spending over half a million bucks.
In the end, the fire was termed an accidental start, and no fault of the property owners.
The Douglas fir is a resistant tree, the ground cover comes back quickly, and now, 7 years later, you would hardly know there was a fire on the mountainside.

Photos: Mercedes Poirier

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Shop Construction

      In 1998 I finally got around to starting a much needed workshop out back. As is the case with anything else built around here, there are no blue prints, just a pencil sketch of what I want it to look like in the end, and ideas buzzing in my head like flies in a jar. There was still some red cedar logs left over from the log building a few years before, and it made sense to sawmill it myself.
This portable band sawmill was located up in Williams Lake. It had 6m (20') of rail and the whole works fit in the back of my short box pickup.


Once I figured I had cut one complete shop plus some spare parts I hauled it over and started construction.
Once the main post and beam frame was up I mad-up the 5 roof rafters on a jig. Once completed I would pull a main piece out which enabled the truss to fold into its self making it easier for one man to handle. Hoisted up by hand and positioned on the top of the structure the rafters were locked with the last piece, and it worked pretty slick.

The truss sit on an off center ridge beam. The whole works is pinned together with wooden dowels.
The area to the right would later be boarded over for a storage loft.

You can see some bracing nailed on during assembly, but the building is designed not to use any internal bracing when finished. All the rigidness is in the 24 tightly notched joints of the posts and beams.
This was taken well into October, and I in a panic to get the roofing on before the fall monsoons hit.

Once the tin was on I had an area to store materials and tools and drink tea under while it rained and snowed. I had a light out there and  would putter away at night quite a bit, I didn't have much else to do at night back in those days.

                               Spring '99

Four years later out of necessity I decided to expand on the shop. There was an outfit building a school down at Skatin'. It so happened that the head of the job had several motorcycles that I rebuilt during the winter in return for pouring me a cement pad later on when there was some cement work being done.
I got the pad all framed-out and level as best I could and loaded it up with re-bar.


   I had salvaged enough fir and cedar to complete the construction I figured, as well as a little horse trading for a laminate beam and some rafters, other than that, all the wood would be saw milled on the spot. A year or two earlier there had been a bridge washout not far from here. The loggers built a new one from huge cedar logs they hauled in from down valley near the head of Harrison Lake. Somehow there was one left over that sat there too long and was starting to get campers hacking away at it for firewood.
I admired that huge log every time I drove by, I could do a lot with a cedar like that.
Only problem was that it wasn't mine to take, and anyways, it was too big for me to handle. 
These two stumbling blocks were easily overcome when time came to start milling.
    I cajoled Pierre Poirier into helping me. He had an aged GMC 1 ton pickup and I asked him to come help me move a log one day. My tractor is a skookum one yet it strained to lift the small end of the huge log while Pierre backed his truck underneath. I let the log down onto his box and his suspension bottomed and his tires flattened out. I unhooked he chain and backed up and got a secure wrap around the huge butt end and attached it to the bucket and it was all my machine would do to hold it off the ground.
   And away I went pushing this great huge long tree with a pickup truck squashed under the front end. I was sweating bullets the whole time sure we were going to bump into a Forestry truck on the road which would open a huge can of worms I could do without.
We made the sharp turn into my driveway, at the expense of some of Pierre's body work, and wheeled down and parked at the mill. No one ever came looking for it but I'm pretty sure the loggers knew what happened to it, no doubt having a good chuckle.
That one log sided the entire shop, and I saved the butt end to make a huge table base.

The pickup suffered a little damage in the process.

This is a different mill than last time, but comparable in size. That is a big piece of fir going to be sliced into 2x4. Having the tractor this time allowed me to handle bigger wood, but you still had to move them onto and around on the mill by hand.

Working alone, with the plans in my head I got the walls up, two huge upright cedar posts set up and an 8 meter ridge beam on top of them to set the rafters on.

Welded metal bracket holding ridge beam and corner brace.

It was important to get the metal roofing on before the fall rains and winter set in so I could work away under cover. There was a beautiful clear stretch of weather the middle of October and things were looking good. I had been working all morning, and afternoon found me almost completed one entire side of the shop roof. I had a long aluminum ladder set up to the ridge beam, which is 6 meters (18') off the shop floor. I had been running up there with 7 meter (20') rolls of roofing felt and following behind with the long sheets of metal roofing which I screwed down.
   I had been working my way across the floor and tying the ladder off with a long piece of rope which was a lot of monkeying around and holding up production I thought and casually began kicking ideas around for alternate methods of keeping the ladder secure on the cement floor.
I don't know what the hell I was thinking, I picked up a piece of roofing felt, stuck it under the legs of the ladder, got on and bounced a few times. Seemed secure.
With those bounces, the sharp edge of the ladder legs bit through the felt, making contact with the cement. Without a second thought I put a roll of roofing felt under my arm, and started up the ladder.
I paused at the top before I put the roll of felt out ahead of me.
I remember thinking, what a beautiful, sunny Fall day it was.
   Suddenly, there was a sharp jolt, and the terrifying realization the ladder had slipped out on the floor far below and what was most certainly coming next. When it let go, I was not hanging on or anything, so I'm pretty much along for the ride. I felt the wind rushing by my head, and instinct took over.
I knew it could only end badly, and the only thought I had time for was when the ladder was level, that was when I would hit the floor. I waited...
And I waited..., until it seemed to me the ladder was almost level, then threw my head back as hard as I could. At that moment,  there was the loudest, hardest,  flat out landing I have ever experienced, and I'm no stranger to a hard landing, let me tell you.  I had come down from the roof level and landed flat on the ladder on a cement floor, with a good head butt thrown in, and the whole building shook with the impact.
Should I ever have more children, they will be born cross-eyed I'm sure.
   I recall jumping up immediately, feeling bashed in everywhere, and trying to shake off the shock of what just transpired in the last 5 seconds.
First thing that gets my attention is an intermittent squirt of red juice shooting from my forehead.
I remember the stream going down and hitting the cement, splattering in several directions.
"Oh hell", I said to myself, "There goes the afternoon!".
I knew I had to act quick and decisive. I headed to the workshop for a shop rag to hold my brains in with.
Funny, I was thinking, should I get a pre-enjoyed rag, or should I get a fresh one. Common sense prevailed. I took a new, unused cotton wiper, hoping the grey matter will wash out easily, balled it up, then held it to my caved in forehead in an attempt to quell the flow of brainal fluids.
So I'm calmly limping over to the main cabin, thinking you stupid idiot, now you probably going to have to go to town. I hadn't quite got the rag in the right place, and my brains were running down my arm and dripping off my elbow. I began to limp a little faster.
      I gimped up on the porch and straight to the bathroom as quickly as possible, to prevent spilling anymore bodily fluids on the floor than was necessary for the executors of my estate to clean up.
I charged into the bathroom,  confronted the mirror, and mentally prepared myself for the ordeal of pushing the remnants of my brains back into the jagged, and gaping hole in my forehead.
Well I get a good look, and darn if it turns out its no more than an eyebrow sort of flayed off.
Maybe I won't have to go to town after all!
I remembered I'm supposed to be thinking decisively, and pondered my next life saving move.
I fired up my little dirt bike, revved it up, and tore off down the airstrip as fast as it went down to the hot spring campsite.
    I had recalled some regulars from Vancouver Island were camped out down there, Kellie and her gang.
Two of her party (Rob and Chris) were BC Ambulance attendants. What luck.
Despite my best efforts at holding the shop rag/head wound plug in the right spot,  I may have been an alarming sight when I arrived at the hot spring campsite.
I didn't want to scare anyone, and hoped I'd run into one of the ambulance attendants first.
Well, you know what happened. Poor woman.  She was innocently going to the water tap, and had the misfortune of meeting a bloodied Mr. Trethewey on his mini-bike.
"Hi, could you get Chris to come over please?" I asked the wide eyed woman, as if nothing was wrong.
"No, no", I called, embarrassed, "I got bucked off my goddamn ladder."
    Over at their campsite they had me sitting on a round of wood while Chris poked at my flayed eyebrow. "Yep" she said, "Gonna need a few stitches there".
"Good timing" Rob adds , "I was just going in for a beer run".
They took the opportunity to use up the vast supply of bandages they had both brought on the camping trip. 
Rob was following his training and following my every possibly brain damaged move.
"I have to keep an eye on you" he said. "You might just conk out or something".
 An hour and some later we arrive in Pemberton village, pulling up to the health clinic emergency entrance.
"I got to get to the liquor store before it closes" he says.
I step out of the vehicle and it disappears in the direction of 'downtown'.
I wait for the explosion out the health clinic doors of the emergency doctors and staff pushing gurneys.
Finally it occurs to me, I might have to go find them.
   I have a pretty buggered up right foot, my head is bandaged up nearly obscuring my features, with a red splotch on the forehead, and I walk with a distinct, mummy from the crypt sideways gait.
I stand at the emergency counter inside, "Hellooo" I called several times.
There is some activity down at the other end of the hallway at the non-emergency area so I head off in my slow, sideways, broken down mummy shuffle.
    Children hush and parents stare as the mummy shuffles into the area.
They pull their children aside, and I shuffle up to the admissions counter, and smirked at the receptionist.
"Oh Hi Robin, how are things at the hot spring?" she asks, recognising me through the wrapping.
So there are a stack of forms to fill out.
"Watch me" I told her as I started printing, "I might just conk out or something".
I am given copies of these forms to take down to emergency. So I shuffle back down the hallway.
By now some of the bandages have come loose and trail behind.
   I arrived at the emergency admissions, and pounded on the dinger a few more times.
I shuffled into the er ward looking for a mirror and stapler, determined to tack the askew eyebrow back on unassisted.
A nurse appears from a doorway at close range, and stops, shocked at seeing a mummy I reckon.
"Hi" I said, like nothing was wrong, "Could you send Chris over here please?".
"Oh my!" she says, "You've been in a car accident".
"Oh no, I got bucked off a ladder".
"Well" she laughs, "...for a head wound you certainly have a clean shirt".
I told her I had to stop at home and change before going visiting.

She could have sewn me up right there I'm sure,  but they need to call my doctor whom has to cancel appointments and mosey down to the health clinic for an "emergency". It took an hour for him to arrive, and 5 minutes to sew the askew eyebrow more or less back into place, and another half hour billing BC Medical Services.

My forehead healed up soon enough, and my brains regenerated back to their former half-witted state.
Turns out the roll of roofing felt I had under my arm cushioned my face, but had jammed the frame of my 'safety glasses'  into my eyebrow, which caused the wound.
I had the painful imprint of an aluminium ladder down me for months, but the worst was my foot that was sticking through the ladder when it hit the floor. I was gimping around out there completing the roofing project a few days later, but  I vowed that would never happen again.
After that incident, I have taken every long ladder I have, and cut it in half.



Sunday, February 5, 2012

Dark January - Part One.

   It started to cool off in the early afternoon the middle of January with a light snow that didn't amount to much. By nine that night it took my breath away when I stepped out of the shop with quite a fierce wind out of the north. So it wasn't any big surprise to me to awake at 3am when the power went off. I went over and turned the big valve off and decided to take the Honda up the hill and remove the intake screen that I know by now is just chock full of frazzle ice. It was a pretty refreshing trip up the mountain to the intake pond with the cold and the sideways blowing snow, I couldn't believe that I had got out of a warm bed to do this.
   I parked above and skidded down the frozen bank to the intake dam. I keep a stout stick on that side to use to steady myself as I pick my way across the top of the dam in the rushing water, trying not to slip on the abundance of ice that forms anywhere near the turbulent creek. I keep a hatchet up there to chop a section of ice on the pond surface if need be to reach my screen, along with the pole to get the ice cake out into the current and over the dam. It had only been about 5 days since I had been up to install my new screen and I used the wooden handled fishing tool to reach down into the water and hook onto the screen then loosen it from the intake pipe. I had to get a good foot hold and really reef to get it out and up on the bank it was so packed with ice crystals and weighed twice as much. They actually kind of jingle when you drag the mass up onto the bank, but of course freeze in short order once exposed to the air. In extreme cold I run the intake pipe open with no screen or filter. So I leave the iced up screen there and head back down the hill to crank up the water driven generator on reduced output. When things get sketchy like this the hot tub is the first thing to be turned off, and is quite process to get it and the filter and pump drained.
So finally I get back into my bed and hope for the best.
   It was about 9 am the next day when it cut out again. This means that with the open intake, frazzle ice has built up on some spot inside the penstock and restricted flow and the ability to generate electricity.
This means its time to break out the candles and light the wood stove until warmer weather prevails, and a flurry of activity as I scurry around draining water lines and prepared for a freeze up.

This is the only time I use my wood stove is when the power is down.
I used to get froze out pretty regular back in the old days, usually for month total spread over the winter. This larger power system has a greater tolerance for extreme cold, but susceptible to the same problems. I've been down many times over the years, usually for 2-3 days, or maybe a week in a few extreme cases. This time had all the makings of a good one with extreme cold and high wind from the north, it felt like it came right through the log walls and the stove consumed arm loads of wood at an alarming rate.
I put up a sheet across the hallway and move into the front "original" area of the cabin for warmth.
Cold and cold running water.

Skook and Chuck just lay low in the cold weather. They enjoy the heat from the wood stove, a rare treat.

 I went up to the intake to have a look in the light. I couldn't bear the thought of a breezy ride up on the quad so I took the pickup. I had to pick my way through the wash outs at the lower end from last fall and it was a rough go of it in several sections..
 My nemesis the intake pond, the water is just a few degrees above freezing.

 This is the screen I pulled off the night before, I've shook it off but you can see how it clogs with ice.
It was terrible cold, and no day to be working here.

 .                             Hmmm...

Luckily not too far away I enjoy the luxury of T'sek. Oh darn, theres no one there.
 Ya thats too bad theres no one around.

I ventured into town one day to stock up on coal oil for my lamp.
A quick stop along Lillooett Lake.

We got a dump of snow after a week so I hoped it signified a warming trend.
The snow didn't make it any easier for me. Just as long as we don't get dumped on again.

I let it settle out for a day or so and headed up to do some work on the intake.

Well OK, didn't make it very far. Maybe try again in another day or so.
As long as we don't get any more snow, because I sure need to get up there and get to work.

I spoke too soon.....

Not funny...

    I can't just wait around for my power to come on there are things I need to do to.
Every day I work towards getting the lights back on.

I figure by now that if I could get the ice out of my intake pipe at the dam, I was probably not far from getting it working.
Its just a matter of getting up there in this deep snow.
   In the old days before there was a logging road up the hill to drive to the intake on, access was by the steep climb up the mountainside. I've done it a thousand times over the years out of necessity, usually in the snow or rain, or cold, sometimes with a load, and I've never been afraid to venture up there in the dark either. Maybe I was just younger then. For some reason, the hill has got steeper, and longer. It got down to the fact that I was going to have to do a run at the hill if I wanted to get my electric blanket working again. Just the 'hill' it self is enough of a deterrent, let alone when its covered in knee deep snow.
I wasn't really sure if I could pull it off.
Late one afternoon I thought I would just go try and beat a trail to the waterfall.
Just about did me in.
So I figure I will just go to the base of the hill so I have a broken trail for when I come back next day.
Just about did me in.
Now I had reached the hard part.
Then I get up the hill a ways and find I'm at the half way point, so there is no turning back now.
 Ropes were tied on the steepest sections years ago to aid the 'Dam Keeper'.
I had to dig around under the snow to locate them. For use going up, or down.

When I reached the dam I uncovered the first few meters of pipeline. This green pipe is used on the first short section and is usually where the ice forms and clogs it off. If I get water flowing in here I am very close to having power.

 Where it joins the PVC it is sealed with a rubber sleeve and hose clamps. I have pulled the sleeve back onto the black pipe, you can see solid ice between the two. The pipe is actually frozen beyond, possibly the entire length. That was a new one, I don't recall that ever happening before.
This is not a good sign for getting my Internet working anytime soon.
There is not much I can do, I pulled the sections of green line apart and let them lay there exposed and hopefully loosen some of that ice. Ice is slow to melt, the air is the same temperature as the water.
The ice in the penstock I was going to have to go home and think about a bit.
Note ice 'inside' pipes. Oh my.

 Looks like I'm going to be needing more of this.

Every day I tackled the hillside once. This is looking down the line at the start.
The trail follows the penstock route for the most part.

 Are we there yet?

There are several spots on the penstock that we have it anchored to trees with cable.
This holds the 700 odd meter water line on the steep slope where it belongs.

Those are some big ice cubes.

You need to be really careful with the long section of green pipe. Full of ice it can be quite heavy and when it gets on snow is slippery like hell and bounce off your shin and land on your gumboot toe and make you jump around swearing for being so stupid. Not that it happened to me or anything.

 I'm not sure if this is a Workman's Compensation approved work area or not.
If getting washed over the falls isn't bad enough you still need to scan over your shoulder for cougar and Sasquatch.

 The Dam. I'd just love to turn this into electricity.

There is a look out at the old helipad close to the dam that gives a good look to the area below.
The cabin's green roof is just visible center right.

After a trying afternoon I got the intake clear of ice and ready to feed the penstock. Only problem was the penstock from there on was full of solid ice. Some of it. Or all of it. I had no way to know.
This was new territory. All I could do was wait for things to thaw a little and loosen in the line, then I assumed it would migrate downhill.There was a lot of line down at the lower end still covered in snow that was not going to melt anytime soon.

Little did I know soon after that very thing would happen in a rather spectacular fashion, and I would end up further than ever from getting the system fired up.
                                                                           To be continued...