During the Happy Camp Complex fires on the Klamath National Forest in the summer of 2014, firefighters and U.S. Forest Service staff took over approximately 50 acres of repurposed alfalfa fields in Fort Jones as their base of operations. The ever-changing population at the camp was equivalent to the combined populations of both the towns of Happy Camp and Fort Jones.
It’s alfalfa harvest time in the scenic Scott River Valley. Vast acres of fragrant alfalfa lie in varying stages of harvest, with some fields just freshly mown, and others already raked into windrows waiting to be baled. Some of the fields are peppered with new bales waiting for the harrow beds. While in still other fields, harrow beds are industriously scooping up and stacking alfalfa bales onto bale wagons.
Yet, in the midst of this seasonal activity, there is another industrious seasonal activity taking place. For it is, of course, fire season. And due to the proximity of the Happy Camp Complex fires in the Klamath National Forest, firefighters and U.S. Forest Service staff have taken over approximately 50 acres of repurposed alfalfa fields in Fort Jones as their base of operations.
At the time of this writing (in mid-September 2014), the ever-changing population of the Fort Jones Base Camp was equivalent to the combined populations of both the towns of Happy Camp and Fort Jones. Similar in many ways to mining and logging camps of bygone days, this modern-day tent-and-truck encampment planted amid surrounding alfalfa fields is, in essence, a temporary, but highly efficient and well-organized small city, complete with law enforcement, food services, sanitation and maintenance works, medical, shower and laundry facilities, and more.
In a population the size of a small city pooled together from nearly every state and tribe of the nation, there is definitely diversity. The Fort Jones Base Camp has seen firefighter teams and camp crew workers from Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Utah, Oregon, including Grand Ronde Tribes Wildland Firefighters, Mount Baker National Forest firefighters from North Bend, Washington, and Flagstaff Arizona Hotshots.
The California area crews who have worked on the Happy Camp Complex include Sequoia National Forest firefighters from the Porterville area, California Conservation Corps fire crews from all over the state, including Fortuna, Los Angeles and Orange County firefighters, Palm Springs Bureau of Land Management, Merced Front Line Fire, Santa Barbara County firefighters, Tahoe Douglas Fire District, Lake Tahoe Basin Fire Management, and Mendocino Hotshots.
There have also been Native American Indians from many different tribes working at the Happy Camp Complex, including Apache, Blackfeet, Hoopa, Klamath-Modoc, Navajo, Paiute, and Yakima.
There has even been a CAL FIRE team of California prison inmates wearing the ubiquitous orange jumpsuits, doing fire-line clean-up duty, as well as a crew of workers from the Teen Challenge Recovery Program serving at the camp.
Where there is smoke, there may be fire. But where there are forest fires to be fought and contained, there is a whole, necessary community of support services personnel working tirelessly behind-the-scenes, making it all possible. And where there’s smoke, there are also epic quantities of supplies and logistical facilities and equipment required to keep the fire base camp running.
While all of this is going on, forests aren’t the only thing burning. There are also massive quantities of calories being burned to fuel the firefighters and other support services personnel.
The behind-the-scenes planning and administrative work orchestrated by the U.S. Forest Service ground support to make the base camp a functional reality is a major engineering feat. However, it is the collaborative effort of many different support services personnel that breathes life into the endeavor.
The daily life of an effective camp is a study in productive perpetual motion. Throughout the camp, there is constant activity. This is most noticeably evident in the continuous work of the Incident Services Catering crew which provides meals for all of the firefighters and on-site support services personnel.
The busy beehive of activity of the ICS kitchen and immense outdoor dining tents makes up the central hub of the base camp. In addition to the round-the-clock work activity of the ICS kitchen crew, there are also many other routine service tasks and chores necessary to the housekeeping for such a large household as the Fort Jones Base Camp.
Collectively, these are the men and women who labor around the clock, keeping the home fires burning, to provide for the care and feeding of hardworking firefighters from all over the country.
In addition to U.S. Forest Service ground support and the multitudes of firefighters, some of the other on-site services that have contributed to the overall success of the Fort Jones Base Camp include:
Potable Water Delivery, Grey Water Removal, Road Grading, Fuel Station, Vehicle Inspection, Vehicle Repair, Truck Wash Station, Tire Shop, Saw Repair, Medical/First-Aid, Security, Shower Facilities, Laundry Service, Air-Conditioned Yurts, Climate-Controlled Mobile Sleepers, Outdoor Event Lighting, Public Address System, Dust Control Water Trucks, Septic Waste Removal.
Siskiyou County citizens will long remember with appreciation the blaze of cooperative teamwork that went into fighting the Happy Camp Complex fires of 2014.
What It Took For:
A Day in the Life of the Fort Jones Base Camp
• 10,000 gallons potable water/day (for kitchen, laundry, & hand wash stations)
• 7,000 pounds of food per day
• 234 cases bottled water per day
• 100 gallons of coffee per day
• 1,700 sack lunches per day
• 10 semi-truck trailers (including six refrigerated) for mobile kitchen facilities
• 80 hand wash basins
• 153 portable toilets
• 300 rolls of toilet paper/day
• Acres and acres of sleeping tents, plus
• 16 20-man air-conditioned yurts, for up to 320 day sleepers, and
• 128 climate-controlled mobile sleeper beds for day sleepers
• 400 to 500 fire hoses per day
• 13.5 million calories per day consumed and burned
• 20,000 man- and woman-hours worked per day
(Note: The above figures are approximate, as the daily base camp population
• Cassandra Tiersma is a freelance writer who lives in Dunsmuir. Her husband was the potable water man on the Fort Jones Base Camp, which she visited regularly for three weeks, gathering information for this article.