Ben Goodwin knows plenty about the intensity of competition through his eight years as boys varsity basketball coach at Brewer High School.
But the Maine forest ranger from Eddington is experiencing a new level of intensity as he has helped battle the northern California wildfire for more than three weeks.
The Red Salmon Complex Fire is actually the combination of two wildfires — the Red Fire burning on the Six Rivers National Forest and the Salmon Fire on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest — that Goodwin and nearly 550 other firefighters are attempting to contain.
“It’s very smoky,” said Goodwin, who has been based in the small town of Forks of Salmon, just northeast of the fire area. “I did not see the sun for the first 10 days I was here.”
This particular blaze, caused by a lightning storm in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area, was first reported on the morning of July 27. As of early Wednesday, it had expanded to 122,667 acres with just 31 percent of its perimeter contained.
The fire has continued its burning rampage amid steep, rugged terrain on the Klamath, Six Rivers and Shasta-Trinity national forests in Humboldt, Siskiyou and Trinity counties in northern California. Communities near the blaze include Hoopa Valley, Willow Creek, Salyer, Trinity Village, Denny, Forks of Salmon, Orleans and Cecilville.
The Red Salmon Complex Fire is one of 8,136 wildfires reported in the Golden State so far this year, conflagrations that have burned nearly 3.8 million acres.
“Size-wise we don’t see this back in Maine, but this gives us some great experience on large-scale fires,” Goodwin said. “The tactics and how we manage fires is very similar. The fire is broken down into divisions, and you focus your work on your division.”
Goodwin is one of four forest rangers from Maine helping out in California, with others fighting similar wildfires in Colorado.
“With all the fires going on in California, they are very short on resources and had to ask for help from all over the country,” he said.
Goodwin is leading a group charged with structure protection, which has been a recent priority of the firefighting efforts because of continuing Red Flag Warnings for hot, dry and breezy conditions.
Goodwin’s crew has identified more than 40 structures to protect in its coverage area.
“Learning different tactics and strategies on fighting fires and the confidence we get from fighting these large-scale fires will help us when we get back home,” Goodwin said. “The structure protection that I’m leading here is exactly what we would do back home.”
California firefighters have been hampered in their efforts by extreme weather conditions, namely high temperatures, brisk breezes and little rain.
“Weather is the most significant factor in what the fire does,” Goodwin said. “We have had some temperatures in the 90- to 100-degree range with high winds, and the fire activity gets very intense. The conditions have stayed the same here throughout my assignment. Hot and very dry with no rain.”
Goodwin is expected to conclude his work on the Red Salmon Complex Fire this week before returning to Maine.
“We usually only go out for 14 days plus some travel days, but I extended to 21 because of the lack of resources. By the time I get back, I will have been gone 25-plus days,” he said. “I would like to thank my family for their sacrifice, love and support. It’s not easy for them or me to be gone this long.”