Sandpoint and Surrounding Communities History
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Fire Line

by Bob Gunter

Bob Selle is a long time resident of Bonner County, Idaho. He shares his experience, in his own words, of fighting fire when he was very young.

GUNTER: You were talking about logging, Bob. They had a lot of fires around here, forest fires. Do you remember any forest fires?

SELLE: Oh, they had some big fires back in those days. Course, I thought, I went out on one fire with my brother when I was seventeen years old. It was in nineteen thirty-three. Beings I was with my brother and they wanted men so bad and I had experience logging, why they hired me because they wouldn't hire anybody unless they were eighteen, see. And I didn't lie about my age. I told em how old I was. Cause you had to sign a contract when you went out to fight fire with the Forest Service. The fire was in the head of the Coeur d'Alene River, back in there some place and they only had one road up to the Pend Oreille divide at that time.

They never got bulldozers to build roads until in the thirties, you see. They had built this one road up there so we went ? and I remember we walked a full day to get to where the fire camp was and we had to carry a sleeping bag and each had to carry a tool, a pick, a shovel, an ax or whatever you wanted, into the camp. And we walked a full day in there and that was a big fire.

I don't think anybody knew where the fire was or where we were 'cause our camp burned up once and we had to go and get in the cooled off ashes and stay. We were up there about thirty days and I remember that was in nineteen thirty three because when I came down I got a pay check for a hundred and twenty some dollars 'cause they'd made a mistake on my time and I tried to tell the guy and I said, "I didn't earn that much, I was only up there…" and he said, "I've gotta give you what I got here. Don't argue and go on." They wrote me a check for that much money. Well, boy, I was one rich kid! I had one year to go to school yet, see. Yeah. That fire never was out until the winter put it out, snowed it out.

GUNTER: What was it like back there?

SELLE: What was it like? Well, not good. You just had a sleeping bag and you just found you a place and you dug a little hole so you wouldn't roll around in it and maybe put a little leaves in it. You didn't have any pad ? you just had a sleeping bag ? and they weren't all that great at that time. The cooks had to cook on bonfires, you know, and they had big square pans, oh, maybe six inches deep and four foot square, and they had several of them on their bonfire. Everything was in there in the grease frying and cooking. That's what you got. Then they made sandwiches. Evidently packed bread in too cause they always had a sandwich when you had to line the queue up and go by and they'd give you a lunch, you know, when you was going out on the fire line.

GUNTER: What would you do on the fire line?

SELLE: Well, you'd dig trail with grub hoe and shovel, see. You'd follow the fire and you'd dig a trail so it couldn't crawl, crawl on the ground and get over the trail, you see. But if the wind came up, blowing around, then you had to go do that again. No dozers or anything. No horses or anything to help you except the handwork ? a grub hoe and a shovel and the crosscut saws, of course. You get a tree on fire that looked like it was going to fall across the line, they'd fall it back into the fire, you know. They had to patrol it all the time. When they once got a section of line, you got on patrol then you didn't have to work very hard, you see very hard cause you didn't have to dig.

You had a section of line you had to keep moving up and down and if it got across a little bit, put it out. Yeah. But it was hard work when they were building trail ? smoke and hot and trying to stay as close to the fire as you can, you know, and stop it where you dig your trail. Yeah.

They fight fire different nowadays. They have tankers and airdrops but they still do a lot of handwork digging the trail around it as you see on television. We did that handwork even like they do now. But we didn't have any help, you didn't have any help with bulldozers, no way. It was kind of dangerous. Yeah. Work. Yeah.

 

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All photographs have been used with permission of the Bonner County Museum.

 

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