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UNSUNG HEROES: THE FIGHTERS ON THE FRONT LINE

Michael Koenen helps with a back-burn operation. ().
Michael Koenen helps with a back-burn operation. ().

By Susan Schell

Pilot Staff Writer

People won't see them on the front page of the L.A. Times dousing the flames on some millionaire's home. They don't do their work in front of awe-struck crowds. Their work is done far away from the eyes of the public.

Their tools are not high-pressure hoses and flashy fire engines. They work with axes, shovels, and chain saws.

They are the workers on the fire lines. As forest fires rage, they place themselves between the flames and neighboring towns. They are the first line of defense between fire and civilization.

As the Biscuit Fire swept through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, the men and women on the fire line spent hours in rugged terrain, often under a brutally hot sun.

Their goal is to create a line around the fire that is free from dry brush and undergrowth, so when the fire reaches the line, there is no fuel to burn.

The workers hack away at dense brush and cut down trees and branches. Bulldozers are brought in to clear away vegetation and create some of the lines for the workers.

Once the lines are in place, and if the weather is favorable, the crews conduct "back-burns." The crews light controlled fires to burn away vegetation toward the fire, widening the area devoid of fuel for the fire to feed on.

These back-burns are often conducted at night while local residents are in bed.

No, you won't see the crews on the fire line hard at work. But when the announcement is made that the Biscuit Fire is fully contained, you'll know they were there.

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