Read CHAPTER XVI- OFF ON A LONG HIKE of The Boy Scout Fire Fighters / Jack Danby's Bravest Deed, free online book, by Robert Maitland, on ReadCentral.com.

Jack and Pete, with a week’s vacation on their hands, were puzzled as to what they should do. But Dick Crawford, anxious to get Jack away from the city for a time, until things should blow over, suggested a plan.

“I heard from Jim Burroughs the other day,” he said. “You remember Jim, the fellow that is engaged to Miss Benton, up at Eagle Lake?”

“Sure she’s Chris Benton’s sister,” said Pete Stubbs.

Dick smiled.

“You’ll get over thinking about girls as some fellows’ sisters when you get a little older, Pete,” he said. “Then you’ll remember that the fellows you know are girls’ brothers. Anyhow, Jim says they’re all up in camp there again, and they were asking me if some of the Scouts couldn’t go up there to see them. Why don’t you make a long hike and go up there? You could tramp it in two days, easily enough, and the weather’s just right for a hike like that.”

“Say, I think that would be fine!” cried Pete. “Let’s do it, Jack, shall we?”

“I’d like to, if I thought we wouldn’t be in the way,” said Jack, his eyes lighting.

“You won’t be in the way,” said Dick. “I know they’d be glad to see you. Come on over to Scout headquarters and we’ll see what we’ve got in the way of equipment for your hike.”

At headquarters they found everything they needed. They made up a couple of packs for each them to carry, with a frying-pan, a coffee pot, and the other cooking utensils necessary for their two days in the open, since they would cook their own meals and travel exactly as if they were in a hostile country, where they could expect no aid from those whose houses they passed.

“Let’s take sleeping bags instead of a tent,” said Jack. “I think it’s much better fun to sleep that way. The weather seems likely to be good, and, anyhow, if it gets very bad, we can find some sort of shelter. They’re a lot easier to carry, too.”

Scout-Master Durland, when he heard of the plan, approved it heartily.

They planned to ride for the first twenty miles of their journey by trolley, since that would take them out into the real country and beyond the suburbs, where there were many paved streets, which were anything but ideal for tramping.

“Now we’re really off, Jack,” cried Pete, as they stepped off the car the next morning. They had taken the car on its first trip, and it was but little after seven o’clock when they finally reached the open road and started off at a good round pace.

“It’s fine to travel on a regular schedule,” said Pete. “Now we don’t have to hurry. We know just when we ought to reach every place we’re coming to, and how long we can stay. That’s much better than just going off for a long walk.”

“Sure it is! It’s systematic, and it pays just as well to be systematic when you’re starting out to have a good time as it does when you’re at work. I’ve found that out.”

“I never used to think so. When I first went to work I hated having to do everything according to rules. But now I know that it’s the only way to get things done on time. The work’s been much easier at the office since we began doing everything that way.”

“Look at our Scout camps, Pete. If we didn’t do things according to a system we’d never get through with the work. As it is, we all know just what to do, and just how to do it. So it takes only about half as long to cook meals and clean up after them, and we have lots more time for games and trailing and swimming and things like that. It surely does pay.”

“Gee, I hope it doesn’t rain, Jack. It would be too bad if we had to run into a storm after having good weather all this time when we were at work.”

“I don’t believe it’s going to rain. But it ought to, really, and it seems selfish to wish for dry weather when the country needs rain so badly.”

“It’s been a mighty dry summer, hasn’t it, Jack?”

“Yes. These fires in the forests around here show that. They started much earlier than they usually do. As a rule October is the time for the worst fires.”

“They seem to be pretty well out around here, though.”

“That’s because there are so many people to keep them under. But up in the big woods, where we’re going, they’re likely to have bad ones, when they start. You see a fire can get going pretty well up there before anyone discovers it, and then it’s the hardest sort of work to stop it before it’s done an awful lot of damage.”

“How do those fires in the woods start, Jack?”

“That’s pretty hard to say, Pete. Careless campers start a whole lot of them. They build fires, and just leave them going when they get through. Then the sparks begin to fly, and the fire spreads.”

“They ought to be arrested!”

“They are, if anyone can prove that they really did start the fire. But that’s pretty hard to do.”

“Don’t the fires start other ways, too?”

“You bet they do! Sometimes the sparks from an engine will set the dry leaves on the ground on fire, and, if there happens to be a wind, that will start the biggest sort of a fire.”

“Isn’t there any way to prevent that?”

“Yes but it’s expensive and difficult. But gradually they’re giving up the coal engines in the woods, and use oil burners instead. There are no sparks and hot cinders to drop from an oil burning engine, you see, and it makes it much safer and cleaner, as well.”

“How about when a fire just starts? That happens sometimes, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, and that’s the hardest sort of a fire of all to control or to find. Sometimes, when the leaves and branches get all wet, they will get terribly hot when the sun blazes down on them. Then, because they’re wet, some sort of a gas develops, and the fire starts with what they call spontaneous combustion.”

“They have a fire patrol in some places, don’t they?”

“Yes, and they ought to have one wherever there are woods. Out west the government forest service keeps men who do nothing all day long but keep on the lookout for fires. Up on the high peaks they have signal stations, with semaphores and telephone wires, and men with telescopes who look out all day long for the first sign of smoke.”

“I think that must be a great life. They call them forest rangers, don’t they?”

“Yes. And it is a great job. Those fellows have to know all the different trees by sight. They have to be able to plant new trees, and cut down others when the trees need to be thinned out. Forestry is a science now, and they’re teaching it in the colleges. An awful lot of our forests have been wasted altogether.”

“They’ll grow again, won’t they, Jack?”

“Y-e-s. They will if the work is done properly. But you see those great big mills, that use up thousands of feet of timber every season even millions don’t stop to cut with an idea of reforestation. They just chop and chop and chop, and when they’ve cut all the timber they can, they move on to another section, where they start in and do it all over again. I’m working to get a Conservation badge, you know. That’s how I’ve happened to read about all these things.”

“I’m going to try to get a Conservation badge, too, Jack. I can start working for it as soon as I’m a First-Class Scout, can’t I?”

“Yes. And this hike will be one of your tests for your First-Class badge, too. You’re only supposed to have to go seven miles, and we’ll make a whole lot more than that. How about your other qualifications? Coming along all right with them?”

“Yes, indeed. I think I can qualify in a couple of weeks.”

“That’s fine, Pete! You know I enlisted you, and a Scout is judged partly by the sort of recruits he brings into the Troop. They’ll never have a chance to blame me for enlisting you if you keep on the way you’ve begun.”

They were going along at a good pace all this time, not too fast, but swinging steadily along. The road did not seem long, because their hard, young bodies were used to exercise, and they took the walking as a matter of course.

“They’ll be expecting us up at the Bentons, won’t they, Jack?”

“Dick Crawford said he would write and let Jim Burroughs know we were coming, Pete. So I guess they’ll be on the lookout all right.”

“Do you remember the night we got to the lake, and Jim Burroughs and Miss Benton were lost in the woods?”

“I certainly do! They would have had a bad night of it if we hadn’t found them, I’m afraid. But all’s well that ends well. It didn’t hurt them at all, as it turned out, and I guess it taught them both to be more careful about going out in woods when they weren’t sure of the trail.”

“Gee, Jack, I could have got lost myself then. I didn’t know how to travel by the stars, and I wasn’t any too sure how to use a compass.”

They had traveled more than half the distance when they picked out a sleeping place that night. They went to a farmer’s house, and when he found that all they wanted was permission to camp in his wood lot, and to make a fire there, he told them they could do as they liked. He invited them to spend the night in the house, too, but they told him they preferred to sleep out-of-doors, and, laughing at them, he consented.

They were off at five in the morning, and at noon, when they built a fire and cooked their dinner, they could see the wooded crests of the hills that were their destination rising before them.

“Look at that haze, Jack,” said Pete. “That isn’t a storm, is it, coming along?”

“I don’t think so, Pete. I don’t like the looks of it. It looks to me more like smoke, from a woods fire. I’ve been thinking I smelled smoke for some time, too.”

“Could you smell it as far as this?”

“Smoke from a big forest fire sometimes travels for two or three hundred miles, if the wind’s right, Pete. In the city, even, in the fall, there will be smoky days, though there isn’t a forest fire of any sort for a good many miles.”

“I suppose that’s because the wood smoke is so thick.”

The further they traveled, the thicker grew the smoke. There could no longer be any mistake about it. The woods in front of them were well alight.

“I only hope the fire doesn’t reach Eagle Lake,” said Jack.