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When I attended Washington & Lee University, one of my classmates was a fellow from Oregon who paid his way through college by fighting fires. Each spring, he would get special leave to go home a week or two early and join the smoke chaser squads back home. The jobs of these specialized forest fire fighters is to rappel out of a helicopter with a chainsaw and cut a fire line in a forest that is burning. The idea is that if you get sufficiently ahead of the fire, you can create enough of a fuel-deprivation zone between the fire and the rest of the forest to contain the fire.

It sounded like dangerous work, and it was. When I asked my friend about his job, he mentioned that sometimes, you could be in a forest and see the flames racing across the treetops overhead. He mentioned that once he and his squaddies had to run full tilt out of a forest fire that was overtaking them, and that they nearly did not make it. I asked him what would have happened if they got caught, a little worried that I might not like the answer.

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