Mules Bring Supplies to Wildland Crews in California

TRINITY COUNTY, California - Though they use satellites, air tankers and radios to battle blazes, firefighters also are turning to a four-legged solution in the wilds of Trinity County.

The Shasta-Trinity National Forest is using teams of mules to move supplies to firefighters on the Coffee Fire, which was at 6,098 acres and 45 percent containment Saturday morning, said Jay C. Nichols of the fire’s command team.

The Trinity Alps Pack mules are divided into strings, or teams of five, and haul everything from food to fire hoses, led by Mike McFadin, said Lisa Radosevich-Craig of the U.S. Forest Service.

Each animal carries about 160 pounds of gear.

The mules are normally used to carry supplies to California Conservation Corps crews on trails, but they’re suited to the rugged terrain, Nichols said. They can travel up to 30 miles in one delivery.

Each string of mules saves a helicopter up to 12 supply trips, Radosevich-Craig said. They were “instrumental” in saving the historic Hodges Cabin in the early days of the fire, she said.

The Trinity Alps has 18 mules, though they’re switched out for each delivery, Nichols said.

“They’re entitled to some rest,” he said.

The mules are “pretty popular” among the firefighters, Nichols said. They are brought to the fire camps, but don’t come close to the front lines, he said.

But the fires don’t make them nervous, he said.

“The one thing that wigs them out is bees. Other than that, they’re good to go,” he said.

Mules have been used in the Trinity Alps for several years – they helped fight fires last year, too, Nichols said. About 100 mules are still used by the Forest Service, including Shasta-Trinity’s 18 in the Trinity Alps.

The mules, which are the offspring of a horse and a donkey, have strong backs and better peripheral vision, making them ideal for the journey, Radosevich-Craig said.

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©2014 the Redding Record Searchlight (Redding, Calif.)

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