“It is really not possible to see the center of a blowup because the smoke only occasionally lifts, and when it does all that can be seen are pieces, pieces of death flying around looking for you — burning cones, branches circling on wings, a log in flight without a propeller.” —Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire
Imagine being a witness to this scene. Take it further: imagine having to make it stop. When someone who does not live in fire country sees hell on earth through their television screen, it is a surreal vignette, a movie special effect, but not one that most of us would ever directly experience. But thousands of courageous firefighters and other first responders are staring directly into the inferno in California each day.
Many of these firefighters sleep on the ground because they are too exhausted to make the return trip to their base camp. Then they get up and do it again, day after day. All Californians should be profoundly grateful to them.
Forty-four people have lost their lives in the Camp Fire, making it the worst fire in the state’s history. Rescuers fear the number will be much higher; 200 are still unaccounted for.
Close to 9,000 firefighters are on the ground battling the Butte County Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire centered in Malibu. That figure doesn’t include police, sheriffs, hospital personnel, EMTs, coroners, and volunteers helping to feed and support them. They’re not just from California, either. Firefighters from Oregon, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Montana are pitching in, too. No red states, no blue states: states, united.
Tragically, ninety firefighters and first responders have lost their homes in the Camp Fire as they struggled to contain the flames. In Butte County, 30 sheriffs alone are now homeless due to the conflagration. Butte College Police Chief Casey Carlson lost his house, along with the houses of several of his officers.
“When we got the evacuation order, I went up to grab a few things, and houses (on the block) were on fire when I was leaving,” Carlson said. “You kind of have to accept it. You know you are helping folks, and that is what matters. I have my kids, the family and the dog. That’s what counts.”
CalFire has taken the brunt of the responsibility, and they have performed brilliantly, yet again. We ask CalFire to take the ultimate risk, and they inspire us with their efforts.
In Paradise, Allyn Pierce manages the intensive care unit at Adventist Health Feather River. He has spent days helping fire victims, even moving patients from the hospital into a caravan out of town when fire threatened the structure.
“This is what we do,” Mr. Pierce said. “I’m not trying to be brave, but any nurse, any health care worker, any cop, they were there and they all did their jobs and they all did it well.”
Please consider helping these heroes as well, in addition to the many victims of the fire. The International Association of Fire Fighters has established a fund to assist them, and you can make a contribution at my.aff.org/disaster.
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, it would be appropriate to give a special thank you to the thousands who sacrifice for us in this catastrophe.
Remember Mr. Pierce’s words: this is what we do. It may seem understated. But that’s what real heroes say.