One from the Vault: Knives of the Wildland Firefighter

The Truth About Knives debuted in March of 2013. In that time we have accumulated a considerable archive of material. In fact, 90% of our daily page views come from archived posts. Sometimes something that has been previously written becomes topical once again. That is the case today, though the post in question is not a TTAK original, but came to us when TTAK writer Jake Middleton wound down his personal blog, Rugged American Gear. That post is “Knives of the Wildland Firefighter”, and originally appeared there.

It is relevant today because the fires that have been burning in Great Smoky Mountains National Park exploded yesterday due to the 40-50mph winds that marked the leading edge of a front that was coming through. With gusts topping 70mph, the fires spread rapidly, engulfing Gatlinburg, TN, burning hundreds of acres, scores of structures, and forcing the evacuation of thousands.

The front did bring about an inch of rain last night, the first significant rainfall since July 5th, but it was not enough. It will help with preventing new spot-fires from popping up as flying embers will not be landing on bone-dry leaves and tinder, but the fires themselves still burn. We are hoping for more rain tonight, but the winds will still be a confounding factor today.

It is frustrating to watch a place I love transformed into a scene from the works of Dante. This is a shot of the Chimney Tops last night.


Chimney Tops, not a still from Lord of the Rings

Here is the same mountain top at a much happier point in time.


Chimney Tops viewed from the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.

The “Chimney’s 2 Fire” is the one that ran down the mountain from Newfound Gap yesterday. It has engulfed what is one of my favorite sections of river to guide and fish – The Gorge on the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. It is my sanctuary, off the beaten path, and a place I only take the most select of clients. It is actually written into my Will that someday I want my ashes scattered in the stream about 50 yards upstream from where the bottom picture was taken. It is a very special place to me.

While my family and I are safe (there is a significant but smaller fire about 20 minutes from here, the one about which I am writing is about 50 minutes from me), it is frustrating to be unable to do anything to help. I was a firefighter in college, and even earned my Wildland 1 certification, but that was the better part of 2 decades ago. I wish there were a volunteer department closer to my home, because I would join up in a heartbeat.

Instead I can only sit back and watch, and write in an attempt to channel my angst. In an effort to keep this relevant to the blog, I am highlighting this extremely relevant post from the vault.

From “Knives of the Wildland Firefighter“:

The wildland firefighter is usually out in the forest, regardless of whether said firefighter is working a fire or staging for the next conflagration. It behooves that person to have a knife, always.

Knives take many forms, and every firefighter has their own style as to what they feel like they need. I carry three knives at work, which is probably something I could trim down to two blades, but I have three. I carry a deep pocket knife which is occupied by my ever present Case Large Stockman with its beautiful orange synthetic handle. A folding bush knife which is an amazingly effective discontinued Kershaw 1050. And my favorite multi-tool ever made, which is my Leatherman Supertool, which came to me in a field when I was working on a cattle ranch just outside of my hometown.

My Case Large Stockman is my “go to” tool for any cutting task because of its three well-chosen blades. The clip blade is the most used piece of equipment other than my hand tool on a fire, from cutting open zip ties for undoing “toy hose” which is a ¾ inch cotton garden hose sized pipe used for mop up after we get the main blaze held up.

Sometimes when the State of Washington is nice enough to purchase us new hose we are overindulged with brand new zip-tied sticks of the workhorse of wildland fire suppression. And since we work around a lot of inmate crews, it isn’t always the best to whip out your brand new Chris Reeves Sabenza or Buck CSAR folder.

Read the whole thing, if you are so inclined.


Since I have this bully pulpit, I can’t pass up the opportunity to share something else related to this situation. While the outpouring of concern that has been tremendous, it is unfortunately not universal. I don’t know who Tobias Beecher is, other than he is someone who deserves a healthy measure of scorn and public ridicule.


sad, pathetic little person. I hope karma throat-punches you.

Karma is a bitch dude. I almost pity you that you are so warped and twisted that you feel the need to celebrate people losing homes and livelihoods. So far, there is no known loss of life, though I imagine your pathetic little being would rejoice in that too you sick f@ck.



  1. Sam L. says:

    Leftists seem to be against everyone who is thought to not be with them. They seem awfully hateful.

  2. cmeat says:

    that’s the first laugh he’s had since nov 9th. he’s been crying nonstop since then.

  3. cmeat says:

    for me such a place is in the quetico. lake anuibis and the surrounding area above lake agnes was torched by lightning years back. the regrowth is amazingly fast and healthy.
    what is devastation now will be amazing to watch regenerate.

    1. OldOutdoorsGuy says:

      Lightning fires are a natural occurrence in the Quetico and generally burn themselves out by one means or another, usually by hitting the shoreline of a lake or being naturally rained out. I am guessing you mean the ’95 Bird Lake fire which was a decade after my time of guiding in the Quetico.

      One of our loop trips went into the Quetico at Prairie Portage and traveled up the Man Chain lakes to Saganagons and then a short portage across the S. end of Hunter I. to get into that falls area I believe you referred to. I don’t remember the first set of small falls having names but they led over toward the Wet Lake area and that second set of falls, mostly 3 meters or so, led down to Canyon Falls which was only topped in my travels throughout the Quetico by the falls out of Louisa Lake down for, it seemed like 60 meters or more, into Agnes Lake! (About half way down those falls, there was a natural basin of sorts where you could climb in and get one of the most refreshing cold water massages from the falling water one could imagine!)

      On one trip with a small experienced group, we paddled up Kawnipi to the top of Kahshahpiwi Creek and then all the way down Kash until we eventually jumped into Isabella and down into the BWCA and then either back to our take out point or we could actually paddle down the Basswood River, into Pipestone and get out at Hoist Bay launch area. If you still felt frisky enough to want more of the same, you could portage down a sand access road from Pipestone to the Clicoit (?) line and down to the north tip of Cedar Lake, the location of the basecamp. I did that one time. It had to be every bit of 5 miles with near empty packs and a 79 lb. canoe that gained an extra hundred pounds by the halfway mark on that portage. Suffice it to say, I also did the Cache Lake route and, given a choice, I would take Cache Lake again, hands down.

      Man, this is pulling up old memories I hadn’t thought about for many years. The Quetico holds many fond memories for me, my 3 paddles traded to Dorothy Molter for fresh brewed root beer kon Knife Lake to my most favorite camping spot in the Quetico, it is a nondescript grassy knoll on Sarah Lake over in the SW quadrant of the Quetico. Coming down Tuck River, you would find a small runoff of water from Sarah over into a small lake in Tuck River. That’s where you would portage into Sarah, as you paddled out into the lake, you would pass my camping spot and not even know it was there.

      I am so glad I stumbled onto your post here, it was a real trip down memory lane for me, and hopefully not too boring for anyone else who appreciates wilderness tales. After the childish Beecher post up top, I hope a good travel tale will get people back in the “spirit” again.

      1. OldOutdoorsGuy says:

        Just dug out a bunch of stuff sent to me by one of my fishing guide friends out of Longville, MN and in it was a copy of the Boundary Waters Journal, Fall, 1999, which covered one of the most disastrous straight line windstorms to hit that area in recorded history. I had forgotten about that major blowdown and wondered if you experienced any of that time in the Quetico?

        My memories are of the pristine wilderness prior to such devastation although I did see the aftermath of lightning fires out in the interior of the park. I have photos of some of the few remaining Lob trees marked by the Voyageurs 150 years ago to find portage trails from the water. I found 2 of them and they were giants in the wood. I wonder if they survived that blowdown after all those years standing watch over those trappers? I still own and cherish a copy of the book, Lob Trees in the Wilderness” by Clifford Ahlgren and his wife, Isabel. It is still found in some book places if you search closely and like that kind of reading, full of rich history of the old French trappers of that time and how they found their way through the wilderness.

        I can understand how you look forward to watching the regrowth of the Anubis area. I am of the personal opinion that the Good Lord missed my calling in birthing me to my parents 100 years too late! I would have loved to be there in that place in time to experience the way it was before man screwed up most of what he had good to begin with.

  4. Ze Kraggash says:

    But there has been a loss of life. Despicable, deplorable excuse for a human being. Because of a political position. Not sure who he works for, but should be fired. Might find out what it means to be homeless. Unless living in his mother’s basement.

  5. Nate says:

    Sam do you not see the hipocrocy of that statement? Those kinds of generalizations are what cause partisan hatred. His comment is beneath contempt but it’s not liberals. Much like conservatives aren’t representative of the KKK. Hatred isn’t partisan even though many use it for political gains.

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One from the Vault: Knives of the Wildland Firefighter

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