Step behind the controls of a heavy-duty tracked vehicle trying to control a raging swamp fire.
Trying to think of the worst job to have on a day like this – food-truck fry cook? Tourist ambassador on the unshaded National Mall? – I came across this video of a firefighter cutting a break in a swamp with heavy machinery during a raging wildfire.
This has to be the absolute pits in terms of heat misery: The day's natural heat amplified by shimmering waves of fiery air, peppered with bites from mosquitoes and the occasional snake and everything smelling like acrid, oily nastiness as swamp vegetation goes up in flames. It makes standing outside today seem almost refreshing... almost.
The footage ostensibly comes from a wildfire this June in the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area just east of Lake Okeechobee. The vehicle is a tracked dozer used to cut lines through the underbrush so that the conflagration has trouble spreading. The lines are often dug down to mineral earth to prevent smoldering roots acting as time-delayed fuses and starting fires later on down the road.
Drought-plagued Florida is particularly vulnerable during this time of year to fire outbreaks in the wild, with an average of 31 new wildfires popping up each day. Firefighters driving the kinds of slow, tracked vehicles you see in the below video perform necessary but perilous work inside blazes that want nothing more than to swallow them up. In June, firefighters Josh Burch and Brett Fulton were overcome and killed by a Florida wildfire while they were cutting firelines with tracked vehicles.
Fighting fires in the swamp isn't the same as combating a blaze in Yellowstone or the forests of California. First off, there are snakes and gators waiting around every turn. And then the natural makeup of the swamp ecosystem makes for a particularly hellish, choking blaze. Here's how one person described Florida swamp fires:
Tracked vehicles are of little use because they get bogged down. As with most fires in the Deep South, they move slower then the ones out West but burn much hotter because of the fuels burned. The vegetation here contains some volatile oils, making it burn hot and very smoky. The smoke itself is much more irritable to the lungs and eyes then I am used to with fires out West.