National Geographic : 1968 Jul
Forest Fire: The Devil's Picnic lumbering town of 5,000 beside Pend Oreille Lake. On Labor Day weekend, Jay Johnston found it in turmoil. Fort Lewis, Washington, had sent 375 Army troops in 55 trucks, six am bulances, and five mobile kitchens to camp at the fairgrounds. Military police wrestled with giant traffic snarls. Alaska Eskimos Lend a Hand Tables were at a premium in Connie's Cafe. A sign behind the counter advertised "Motor cycle Races, Rain or Shine." Scrawled blackly across it was "Canceled Due to Fire." By 5 p.m. Monday the Sundance fighters had hacked a line all around the fire except for four miles on the eastern side. Near Hell roaring Creek five 24-man crews of short, dark fire fighters labored to close that gap sawing, chopping, digging, shoveling. They strongly resembled American Indians, but they were not. They were Eskimos from Chevak, a tiny riverside fishing village near the Bering Sea (below). A dozen such crews had flown from Alaska to help fight the fires. For most of the Eski mos, it was their first trip "outside," their first look at horses and cows. Frank Ulroan, the Chevak crew leader, spoke good English. "The first question everyone asks us," he said, "is 'How do you like it here in the Lower Forty-Eight?' We tell them, 'It's too hot.' " "You know what really fascinates these men?" asked Brian Weatherford, their non Eskimo liaison officer. "Ants. They never saw any in Alaska, and every free moment they have they go out in the fields and watch ants at work." Only two ridges removed from Hellroaring Creek, where the Eskimos toiled, lay the Pack River watershed. Two days earlier the Sundance fire had raced through this area of Strong arms of an Eskimo fire fighter hurl dirt on charred woodland to prevent a flare-up of the Sundance blaze. Flown in by jet, 12 Eskimo crews from Alaska helped battle the Northwest fires. In Idaho many of them saw their first horses, cows, and ants. ___ KODACHROME BY DAVIDL. ARNOLD,NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSTAFF(C N.G.S.