KOOTENAI NATIONAL FOREST, Mont. — While fighting fires in the Ohio Valley has long been a tradition upheld by men and women who volunteer their lives for the betterment of others, one Gallia resident felt called to serve beyond the county’s borders in the northern Rocky Mountains in what he called “an unforgettable opportunity” and to bring that experience back to share with others.
Bradley Davies, 29, of the Rio Grande Volunteer Fire Department, raised around Patriot, a past Perry Township Trustee candidate and past chief of the Greenfield Township Volunteer Fire Department, recently returned Aug. 24 from fighting fires in the Kootenai National Forest in Montana. He flew out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Aug. 4, and landed in Missoula, Montana. Around a hundred other individuals joined him from Ohio, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire and Delaware.
Davies is an administratively determined firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, Wayne National Forest. He started in that position in September 2010. Ohio organized a Type Two crew to send west to assist other firefighting crews. Davies was part of Crew Three.
Fires Davies fought were in the Yaak region, dubbed the Davis Fire, and Troy region, dubbed the Surprise Gulch Fire, of Montana. Those fires were just a few of the thousands of acres consumed across Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming through the summer heat.
“In the past, I could have done this many times but I was concerned about being away for that many days,” said Davies. “Finally, they told me I could go and I was like why not, I’m going to try it. It’s completely different than fighting fires back here. Out there everything is like a subalpine fir (tree species).”
The limbs of such trees grow downwards and can be turned into “ladder fuel,” said Davies, when fighting a fire. Smoldering, dead plant material on the forest floor, duff, can reach the downward growing limbs and then cause the trees to flame, the fire then climbing upwards.
“If we found a spot, we’d have to get into it,” said Davies,” dig around on it, try to stop it from smoldering on. We’d then take a chainsaw and cut all that ladder fuel five or six feet up each tree around that to try and stop it from torching. When it torches, it would spot again and then one little spot could be 20 before you knew it.”
The Davis Fire had spread 350 acres by the time Davies’ team arrived, he said. When they left, it had consumed 6,400 acres and was still continuing. His team and others had better success combating the Surprise Gulch Fire by limiting damage to 15 acres. According to a report Davies read a week ago, firefighters anticipated they might not have the Davis Fire under control until mid-September and over $10 million in damage had already been done.
Davies said, while firefighting, his team utilized pulaskis, a firefighting tool with an axe head and adze head on the opposite side. The adze can be used to pry, pull or dig. His team would flag hot spots and either dig them up to stop smoldering or utilize water from bucket drops by helicopter to prevent further fires. His team would cool edges on fire flanks and make certain that no embers got away from the main fire to “spot” another fire in the duff, farther away.
Davies has served as a firefighter for over 10 years. He said that fighting a fire in a wooded area in Appalachian Gallia County is much different than out west as firefighters in Gallia often use “drip torches” or “backburning” in controlled burns to prevent further spread. In the west, Davies said one was more focused on keeping areas cool because of the dry conditions and ladder fuel.
“There was nothing there that was simple,” said Davies.
“I was and always am proud of everything Bradley does,” said Davies’ fiancee, Trish. “But heading out west to Montana was a bit harder to handle than it is him firefighting close because he didn’t have any (cell) signal or Wi-Fi (close to contact family). I know he is very level-headed and alert in his surroundings but I’ll always worry. He was a lot farther, so me getting there in case of an emergency would be way longer to get there than it is here in Ohio. I’m happy to say I have my own personal hero.”
Davies said, given the opportunity, he would go back and it could be sooner than later.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.