Boxelder Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center

Boxelder Crew 1 Helps North Zone with Custer Peak Pile Burning

February 1st, 2012

Written by Brad Hershey, Fire Crew Squad Boss

For the past couple of months Boxelder Job Corps handcrew members have being getting some hands on learning in the forest. The crew has been working with North Zone firefighters on various project sites as well as controlled burns throughout the northern Black Hills. So far one of the main hotbeds of activity has been the Custer Peak area.  Custer Peak rises up from the Black Hills to an elevation of 6804 feet and is surrounded by dense pine forests. Sitting atop the peak is the Custer Peak Lookout Tower which was built in the 1930’s. Due to the recent outbreak of mountain pine beetles in the area the Forest Service has deemed it necessary to remove bug hit trees to mitigate some of the hazards and reduce fuel loading on the mountain as well as protect the lookout tower.

This past fall Boxelder joined forces with North Zone engines and crews to help swamp for the sawyers and hand pile the trees that are within 200 yards of the tower. Although recently trained in S-212 wildland fire chainsaws and certified as A-Level sawyers these bug hit trees were to dangerous for the students to remove.  Instead of running chain saws they swamped for North Zone sawyers and helped stack the trees in handpiles all over the mountain.

One the snow started to fly in late November and early December Boxelder’s crew was called upon to help burn the piles. The crew’s first day helping involved igniting the piles and then going back through and chipping in the heavies, which basically means throwing the larger logs back into fire to burn down.  The first day of ignition the crew accomplished around 15 acres and to many handpiles to count. The second day the students assisted the students were each given a drip torch and told to ignite any pile that they came across their area as they were grid out over a 100 yard area.  As the students were performing ignition operations on the handpiles one of the crew bosses from North Zone took two students at a time to ignite the larger machine piles. One the second day Boxelder students and North Zone firefighters accomplished approximately 115 acres of ignition operations, before moving on the another timber sale to help North Zone fuels crews ignite another 5 acres.

Overall, the Fire Crew at Boxelder has made leaps and bounds considering that this is the first year that Boxelder has put out a handcrew in over 10 years.  Due to the crews success we are regularly being called by various districts for help with projects.  Mr. Hershey, the crew’s supervisor, has also lined up one STEP hire for the 2012 fire season with Mystic RD as well as lined up possible seasonal hires by the Forest Service. So all things considered 2012 could be the breakout fire season for the hand crew here at Boxelder.