When I worked as a forest firefighter on the Pike Hotshot Crew, we lit backfires to stop the main fire in its tracks. We often did these “burnouts” during night shifts because the cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity lowered the risk that the fire we lit would jump our fireline and burn out of control.
To learn more about my pal John Markalunas, the firefighter/photographer who took this picture of two Pikers lighting a midnight burnout, click HERE.
Impossible to talk about my firefighting buddy Luke Austin without sounding like a teller of tall tales. And it must be said that Austin would fit in better with Paul Bunyon, Pecos Bill and Daniel Boone, than with your average American male.
A collegiate wrestler and physical beast, Luke Austin still holds two all-time physical records for the elite, type 1 Pike Hotshot crew.
In one minute, Luke Austin completed 113 perfect pushups. (Yes that’s more than 2 pushups a second!)
And in another minute, he completed 72 dips.
I would want to put the whopper stopper on numbers like that, but I saw him set the records myself, his form perfect, his big arms like pistons.
And Luke Austin’s physical prowess is matched by his intellectual might. He completed most of a biography of a little known Civil War general while staging in fire camps across the American West. Austin’s book, General John Bratton: from Sumter to Appomattox, in Letters to his Wife (Proctor’s Hall Press, 2003) tells of both the life of Bratton, and the history of the Civil War, through use of letters Bratton wrote home to his beloved. (Of course Lukie loved it that Bratton destroyed the letters his wife sent him so that, as Lukie put it, if Bratton was killed in battle, “the Yankee soldiers wouldn’t be able to get their dickskinners on them.”)
The following song tells the mostly true story of an effort to publish my novel, The Gods of Fire, which is based on my experiences as a forest firefighter on the Pike Hotshot crew. The unsold novel has been optioned for film by Pandemonium Productions. I am currently writing the screenplay.
Just before my elite, twenty-man Pike Hotshot crew of forest firefighters received a dispatch to the Angeles National Forest in Southern California, Mark O’Shea bought a new pair of White’s fire boots. They cost him $350 and he bragged about them night and day while we worked 28-hour shifts fighting that SoCal blaze.
The first season I fought forest fires on the elite “type 1” Pike Hotshot crew, my squad boss Bob Schroeder talked about Southern California as if it was the land of milk and honey.
“That year Hollywood burned in October,” he’d say after a downing a bottle of Hot Damn and countless shots of Cactus Juice, “Man, it was a kick…They had an ice cream stand, right there in the middle of fire camp. A scoop of Rock Road after a fifteen hour day digging fireline….Imagine it.”