Siskiyou County, Calif. — Several fire crews are camped out in northern California as firefighters continue to battle flames from the Island Fire. Since crews are at various fire camps along the Pacific Crest Trail, they need supplies – and the US Forest Service is delivering in a way you may not expect.
“Historically, this area has probably been using mules since the mid-1800’s,” Michael Morse is a packer for the US Forest Service.
He said wilderness fires – like the Island Fire – accessible by big open trails make this a perfect opportunity to use mules.
“Quite honestly, talking to a lot of people – they’re safer in a sense that they’re not flying helicopters everyday,” Morse said.
One mule can hold up to 170 pounds of supplies – that includes food, fire equipment, and batteries. Those supplies are traveling up the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with five mules to go to ten firefighters battling the Island Fire in Siskiyou County.
“We were hauling gasoline, chainsaws, red bags, anything that any of these crews that are out there have a need for, we’re able to get in on mules,” Morse said.
Wednesday’s haul was a five-day supply of groceries, but trips can vary with whatever the firefighters need.
“We try to go in full and come out full,” Morse said.
That means hauling in supplies and hauling out any garbage or broken equipment. The mules travel three miles per hour. Wednesday’s 25-mile round trip will take the packers and mules around nine hours.
How does one train a mule? Morse said it starts from a young age.
“We basically have to condition them and train them to be on these Rocky Mountain trails,” Morse said.
Training aside, Morse said safety always comes first, for the mules and the packers.
“The key to a good packer is someone’s who’s worked with these animals for an extensive period of time the animals are well-trained to be in diverse conditions such as this on different types of trail,” Morse said.
At last check, the Island Fire wasn’t at all contained. The US Forest Service said this fire won’t be contained like a regular fire, as some of the burning is good for getting rid of underbrush that could cause bigger problems in the future.