Sailing with FireI’ve never had a firefighter onboard before, so this was like sailing with fire. Derek Hayes of Elko, Nevada, joined his mother DeLyne and her husband David out on a dark but otherwise pleasant day for a private sailboat charter on the York River, off Yorktown. DeLyne is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, and we got to talking about the rare thunderstorms we were experiencing on the last day of September.

Sailing with FireDeLyne said, “In northwest Nevada, we get a lot of dry lightning, in which the rain dissipates before it can hit the ground. That leads to wildfires, which Derek has fought.” He picked up the story by talking casually about his summer job like it was no more than lifeguarding at a pool.

“I worked nine seasons, beginning when I was in high school as a runner. It’s hard to breath near the fire. You’re on the edge of the fire where they like to say you keep one foot in the black (charred land) and one in the green. You move your head instinctively to catch a breath of fresh air—literally. We carry water and we carry a miniature tent that you can set up in a hurry if the fire overtakes you. I never had to do that. It can get very hot. You’re covered completely so there’s no exposure to the fire.”

DeLyne mentioned the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona that killed 19 firefighters in 2013, and Derek said only that he knew people who knew some of them. Despite the heat, the smoke and the flames, David said, “Most of the fatalities are from traffic accidents. Trucks go off the road, collide, take wrong turns, or go off cliffs.” (This never happens on a charter sail.)

Derek helped fight the Jarbidge Fire of 2008, which spanned 9600 acres.

“I drove up this hill in the fire truck and ran out of road at the top. It was just an ATV trail. We looked over the ridge and it seemed to veer down almost as a sheer drop. My guys jumped out and said they’d spot me. Oh, thanks a lot. I managed to creep down slowly without toppling, and I only lost a flat tire.”

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