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Humor on the Fireline
by Jim Fisher
No matter how serious or dangerous a situation can be, either unintentionally or by design, something in the American culture makes us turn to humor. Consider the success of the book, movie, and television series of “M*A*S*H set in the middle of the Korean War.

Almost every organization has someone who can break the tension of a dangerous job with humor, even fighting wildfire.

In northeastern Oregon, a friend working on a fire checked out an abandoned cabin and found a bowling ball a hundred miles from any bowling lane.  Bringing it back to fire camp, he was quick to point out that the ball fit his hand exactly. 

This same friend was a night line boss on the fire in Lane County. When I arrived at the fire, he insisted on showing me many St. Bernard dogs that he had found. We arrived at the location, put the truck lights out on a field, but no dogs! (We later learned that the dogs, raised for motion pictures, had been moved to the open field for safety, and then transported out of the area.)

Weather can create humorous situations on fires that. A crew controlled a late fall wildfire in southeastern Oregon just as a snowstorm started.  Before they could head for home, they had to radio for someone local to guide them out over a primitive road covered with snow.

Names of wildfires often reflect someone’s humor.  One old-timer from Salem showed up to help fight a lightning fire bust in southwest Oregon. He found the fire - high on a steep, brushy ridge infested with rattlesnakes. Once the fire was out, it was time to complete the fire report; he named the fire “Poor Judgment #1”   “It was my poor judgment that I ever spotted the fire from down on the road,” he explained.

On a fire near Eugene a firefighter discovered a buzzard’s nest with a baby buzzard in it.  He named it “Herbie” after a bad joke he often told and brought it food every day. Finally, we were released from the fire. Before we left, the firefighter hiked back to pick up Herbie and smuggled the buzzard, about the size of a large turkey, onto the bus for the 200-mile trip home. Later, Herbie was released into the wild.

Jim Fisher is a retired Public Affairs Director with the Oregon Department of Forestry and is now a free lance writer living near Sisters in Central Oregon.