Deer fawns have survival skill of lying down motionless when a predator is near. Sometimes this is called “tharn” which is a phrase from the excellent story Watership Down.
In the summer of 1988 the Tahoe National Forest was getting a lot of lightning and the resultant fires. I was working in Truckee and we got a report of a smoke high on the slope south of Euer Valley (which is just west of the Tahoe-Donner area). I headed out with one Engine. We located the smoke just where the report stated. It was on private land inside the National Forest.
While they were making their way up to the fire I went down to the home of a long-time local to inquire about alternate access to the vicinity of this fire. Since the fire was on private land I had very little knowledge of the area and any roads or trails there.
My friend and I examined maps at his house and I pointed out the approximate location. He told me that the land owners had done a timber sale in the area a few years prior and that some of the logging roads might still be accessible. We drove out to an area above the valley to a gate to which he had a key. He opened the gate and we drove out the road. The road was overgrown but passable. We had to move some small fallen trees and used a chainsaw on one which was a little too big to drag out of the roadway.
A few minutes later I drove right up to the fire. It was about ½ acre, but not doing much. There wasn’t a lot of other vegetation around it, but I called for another Engine, since I now knew how they could easily drive to the location.
I also called the crew that was hiking up from below. I figured they were probably about to the fire but depending on how far they still had to go I might have told them that there was a road, and to go back to the Engine and drive around. But he told me that they were almost there, so I didn’t add any more.
Then I walked back along the road, looking down the very steep slope for them. I moment later I saw the first crewman, Jeff. Sweat was pouring from his face and his shirt was soaked. I felt bad about them hiking when there was a road right there, but it was funny.
Just then he saw me, “What? How’d you get here? Oh my God, don’t tell me that there’s a road!”
“Yes Jeff, I’m sorry. I didn’t know this was here until a few minutes ago – too late to turn you back. But, yes, there is a road and the look on your face is priceless!”
So – I’m getting to the point here eventually – after a while we had a line around the fire and had used up all the water in the Engine. I sent Jeff and another fireman off in my truck to get the Engine they’d parked down in the valley. Another crew member, Tami, and I went off in the Engine to refill with water.
There was a creek about ½ mile away, so we accomplished this with no difficulty and started back. About halfway back we saw a doe with twin fawns.
We came around a little bend in the road and there the two fawns were. Lying right in the middle of the road – tharn!
Tami and I got out, assuming that if we got close enough they would get up and run. We walked right up to them and neither of them moved a muscle. I got a stick and gently poked them. Absolutely no reaction.
Hum! We were stumped. We looked for a way to maneuver the Engine around the fawns, but there were large trees and boulders which made that impossible.
Finally we got some largish branches and scooted/dragged the two fawns off to the side so that there was room to get past them. During this entire process they gave no indication that they were even alive except for the rise and fall of their little chests as they breathed.
We went on to the fire. When we went back for the next refill they were gone.