Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How to get myself into trouble...

Well, first the good news: After my scary experience at Avon Park Airforce Base I obediently called Camp Blanding, which is a National Guard training ground, whether I could hike through. I was cleared and had a nice and uneventful hike across the camp.

FT trail blaze
Now the bad news: Just some days before that I was hiking through Ocala National Forest - 70 miles without road walk! I was thoroughly enjoying it when I suddenly came across a tape across the trail and a sign saying: Area temporarily closed due to prescribed burn. There was no date or detour given, I could not see or smell any smoke and the tape and sign looked pretty old anyways. So I decided to do what probably most thruhikers would have done: I thought this is an old sign and hiked on. Of course I checked for signs of forest fires, but I could not see or smell anything for 2 miles and came to the conclusion that it probably HAD been an old sign. But I was wrong, terribly wrong. All of a sudden I saw smoke and then I saw the fire directly ahead of me. And I heard the helicopters above me which monitored the prescribed burn. I started feeling decidedly uncomfortable. I did not feel in any danger -the fire was still almost 1 mile away -, but what should I do now?

Forest after a prescribed burn

Exactly at that point the trail took a 90 degree turn away from the fire and I could see a big forest road with a truck on it about half a mile away. And so I decided to hike on - away from the fire, still feeling uncomfortable, but not in danger. I had not even hiked a quarter mile when the helicopter spotted me. The pilot sounded a siren and I was shouted at with a megaphone from out of the helicopter. This is when I started to feel very uncomfortable.... I could not understand what they very shouting at me but the whole situation was pretty scary: Here I was illegally in the middle of a huge forest with a fire not even a mile away and a helicopter hovering above me. Maybe I was in danger? I started running along the trail and for sure there was another little fire coming up just next to the trail. It was just a patch of fire and still some yards away from the trail but I got very scared at that point - and almost immediately exited onto the forest road, where a fire truck was already waiting for me. I was rather shaken! I had never been in any real danger, but I realised how stupid I had been. The rangers just asked me about other hikers and told me that there was no fire on the other side of the forest road - and so I just hiked on and tried to recover fromt the shock.

I learnt a lot from that experience and will never ever ignore any signs warning against prescribed burns. Unfortunately, I have become too cautious now: Whenever I hear some helicopter overhead, I think there is a forest fire - and there are a lot of helicopters here.

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