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Mule Train

SPRINGVILLE, CA — The Fish Fire is burning in the Golden Trout Wilderness, an area untrammeled by man, retaining its primeval character and influence. Because motorized vehicles are not allowed in the Wilderness, other methods are needed to support the fire crews camped in the area for up to two weeks. While helicopters can be useful to shuttle supplies in and out of the area, an alternative method to supply crews on the fire line is mule pack trains.

A pack train is a group of mules tied together. They are outfitted with special saddles that can hold boxes filled with supplies including food, water and tools. Each mule can carry up to 160 pounds of equipment on their seven mile one-way trip to the spike camp where fire fighters are temporarily camped; it takes 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach the spike camp.

Mike Morris, a Forest Service employee and packer since 1974 said, “The 19 mules working on the Fish Fire can carry almost 3,700 pounds in one trip [the equivalent of two medium helicopters]. The cost of a pack train is roughly $0.14 per pound which is significantly less than a helicopter which is about $0.67 per pound.”

Closely tied to the Wilderness value of Leave No Trace, when the pack strings are not working on fires, they can assist in other wilderness tasks including trail maintenance and supporting wilderness rangers on their patrols. Pack trains working in the Wilderness provide information on closures, wilderness etiquette and fire information to wilderness users they encounter while entering or exiting an area.

Incident Commander Matt Reidy said, “The success of this incident was due in large part to the support of the already established U.S. Forest Service Region 5 Packers. We saved countless hours of risk to firefighters by reducing helicopter flights and achieved our objectives of minimizing our footprint in the wilderness.”

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