Few professions beside firefighting offer lower pay in return for the highest risk of physical harm, but that never put a damper on Becky Blankenship's enthusiasm. After working for two years on the U.S. Forest Service's trail crew from afar, she jumped at the chance of getting her "red card" training certificate for firefighting.
Two "blow-ups" -- sudden flare-ups of forest land -- during a 2001 firefight in the Uinta Mountains might have scared off any other first-timer.
"I loved it," Blankenship said.
So much so, in fact, that she began chronicling her experiences through photography.
The soot in your nostrils, bathing in creeks, endless diet of M&Ms and meals-ready-to-eat faded compared to the camaraderie. Walk into a restaurant of cheering patrons after long days of putting out a forest fire and even the multitude of aches in your body seems to melt.
Wendy Blankenship, Becky's older sister and an MFA-educated poet, noticed that her sister's life on the "hotshot" crew was not just a lifestyle, but often a separate language.
Sitting in the back seat as their mother drove around their Wellsville home near Logan, Wendy was struck by words Becky used. A "cat-face tree" was one burnt out, or burning, near the trunk. A "widow maker" was a burnt tree so precariously fragile the fall of a branch might kill. Most poetic of all was "along the black," the burn-out safety zone fire fighters retreated into when things "got gunny" near a burning forest.
"I just saw it as another day of work. Wendy saw it as poetry," Becky said.
What both sisters soon realized was that their complementary views-- Becky's photography and Wendy's poetry -- would make for a bracing book. The result, Along The Black , is a 46-page homage to the grit and courage of one of the world's most dangerous professional callings.
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