Myself, I’m not thrilled or enthusiastic. I’m scared. Lou Cross said we were sitting ducks with all the dead timber around us and I’m afraid he’s right. Unfortunately, he and his crew started up the ravine on the right side of camp and the fire is coming down the left.
“Mrs. Ross, keep trying to connect with the outside world,” Captain Wolfe commands. He grabs a bullhorn and begins to walk around the compound. “All personnel to the flagpole, immediately!”
I follow after him, not sure if I’m personnel, but wanting to know what the next step will be.
“Men, we have a critical situation. There’s a fire about three miles away in the ravine between White Rock and Medicine Ridge. We have to send everyone. We’ll start digging trenches about a mile from the camp. The fire suppression teams are already out there. I’ll pull Lou Cross and his crew over to the left, if he hasn’t already gotten there.
“I need someone to go with me to get Drake Trustler down from the fire tower. It may be a hot ride. Who volunteers?”
Loonie Tinkshell raises his fist. “I’ll go.”
“Okay, then. Every man follow your team leader. Get shovels, axes, rakes, anything you can find, buckets of water and burlap sacks. We’ll beat the flames back if we have to,” he shouts against the wind. “And be careful as hell.”
Now, except for the roar of the wind and Mrs. Ross’s calls for help on the shortwave radio, it is quiet. Boodean has been forced to come down from the roof or the wind was going to blow him down. Snake Nelson, the boy with the leg wound, still sleeps on a cot, under the influence of the laudanum.
I lay out gauze to cover wounds or burns, and Boodean runs to the laundry for clean towels and washcloths and then to the kitchen for salt and ice to make saltwater packs to cool the men’s skin, but other than that we are as ready as we can be.
“What do we do now?” Boodean asks me. “Sit and wait?”
“No, we should set up an ambulance system, some way to transport corpsmen if they get injured.”
“Yes. I want you to scour the camp for an available vehicle, maybe a pickup truck with a metal hood. Metal, not canvas; it could catch on fire. We’ll make a couple of pallets in the back and load the stretcher, then you take ambulance down the road, closer to the flames where the men are working.
“If anyone gets hurt, do first aid at the site, bind wounds, put on splints, whatever you can to stabilize the patient before you move him, but stay away from the fire. Don’t get hurt yourself.”
The secretary stands up and starts yelling into the mouthpiece again, “This is CCC Camp White Rock. Can you hear me? Can anyone hear me?”
For a few seconds there’s static on the line, but then it stops. “Can anyone hear me? There’s fire on the mountain. This is CCC Camp White Rock calling. We may need help.”
Outside on the porch I scan for a blaze as the day darkens. It’s only four o’clock but it could be nine, the smoke is that thick.
“Uhhhhhhaug.” Snake wakes up crying. “Oh, Nursie. My leg hurts so bad! Can I have another few drops of that medicine? It’s mighty good stuff.” The man sounds half drunk.
“Look, Snake. I know you’re in pain, but I can’t give you any more laudanum. We have a disaster on our hands and I might need it for another patient.”
“A fire, a real wildfire. Everyone is out fighting it. There’s only you and me, Mrs. Ross, the cook, and few of the kitchen staff left in the camp. Anytime now, Boodean may return in our makeshift ambulance with an injured or burned corpsman. All I can give you are two Bayers.”
“It’s okay,” Nelson answers pushing up and hopping over to the window to look. He uses a chair to support himself and stares out the glass, then he hops back to bed. “I guess I could use a Bayer. It would help some. Wake me if there’s anything I can do, Nurse Becky.”
There is nothing like waiting for imminent calamity. I run over all I have done and consider my skills. I really don’t think I am qualified to run triage at a disaster site. Not only am I not a physician, I’m scared. My way of handling it would be for all of us to get in the trucks and get the hell out of here, but I’m sure Wolfe wouldn’t think of it. The camp is his responsibility and he is a warrior, not Chicken Little like me.
While I kill time, I pace the clinic, investigate Colonel Milliken’s office, and then return to the porch, where the setting sun has turned the billowing smoke clouds bloodred.
At first I don’t hear the sound of the motor coming toward the clinic. The wind is that loud. It’s the headlights piercing through smoke that alert me. Boodean and our ambulance! Quickly, I look over our meager supplies and rehearse what I know about burn injury.
If the burns are only red, like sunburn, cover them with cool cloths. They will heal in four days and leave no scars.
If the burns are partial thickness with blisters, we must protect them with cool cloths, being careful not to disturb the eruptions. Hydrating the patient is important, with a little salt water, but only in very small amounts because you don’t want the patient to vomit.
If the burns are full thickness, going right through the skin, and covering much of the body, the patient is critical and may go into shock. Many won’t make it.
The truck bumps to a stop.
“Becky!” a hoarse voice cries, as a man dressed in a filthy CCC uniform with a blue bandanna tied around his mouth and nose staggers into the waiting room. “It’s me, Boodean.” He carries the body of another man who also has a bandanna over his face. The patient’s pants have been burned off and the skin on his legs is blistered and black. He wears a familiar Elgin watch.
“My God. It’s the captain! What happened?” The victim groans as I try to absorb some of his weight and we half drag him into the infirmary.
“It was terrible.” Boodean pulls off his mask. “I found Captain Wolfe staggering down the road with Drake’s body over his shoulders. Before he passed out he told me he’d driven up to the fire tower to bring Trustler down, but found the corpsman collapsed on the trail, overcome by smoke and badly burned.
“It’s hell out there, Miss Becky. The fire is spreading and trees are crashing over the road so that Captain Wolfe had to abandon the truck and come down by foot.”
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