Friday, May 16, 2008

Smurf Fire

Well, it's been a pretty eventful week. On Monday morning we had a town safety meeting on fire prevention, where we watched videos of some of the big building fires we've had here at McMurdo. After the safety meeting I went up to T-Site (a facility on top of a hill here where there are a lot of radio transmitters) with my boss, Mark. On the way down, I said to my boss "look, you can see the Smurf Hut from here". The smurf hut is a small, blue warm-up shack that the fleet operations folks use on various projects-- they just drag it around behind their equipment, for a nice place to get warm. It was pretty posh-- it had a microwave, computer with wireless internet access, a nice couch, a phone... you get the idea. It was ironic that I happened to notice the lights from the hut from the hilltop, because it turns out that about that time, it was catching on fire. In my office we have a radio console that monitors all the frequencies in town-- we're among the first to hear about it when something happens. About ten o'clock we heard the fire dispatcher announce that the Smurf Hut was on fire. Antz went to get a long lens, and I went up to the Crary lab library ( to watch the fire through a spotting scope. The hut was out at the Pegasus runway on the ice shelf, several miles from McMurdo, so it was just an orange blur on the horizon. That picture is also a pretty good representation of how dark it is these days-- it was probably taken around noon. Since the ice is white, things look a lot brighter than they ordinarily would. The sun never gets anywhere near the horizon any more, and it's pitch dark for about twenty hours a day. There was a buzz around town-- the Smurf Hut drama was more exciting than anything that had happened in a while. The hut had a 500 gallon and a 200 gallon fuel tank (both full of jet fuel), so it burned pretty bright for quite a while. We chided the station manager for being a jinx. The last time he held an "all hands" safety meeting, the fleet operations folks dropped a bulldozer through the ice. They went out to get it, and dropped the rescuing dozer through the ice, too! The search and rescue team went out to help, but they got off-course in a blizzard, and rolled the Hagglunds vehicle ( they were driving. They had to spend the night in a small mountain tent, in the raging blizzard. This time, the safety meeting topic was fire, and guess what? We told the station manager to please not have any more safety meetings, lest someone get hurt.

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