Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hug a Firefighter

The picture you see above this post sits on my youngest son's dresser (the second picture on the right is a satellite photo showing how the winds push the dust and smoke from the wildfires into the ocean). It was taken once we were allowed back to our home after the first wildfire. Fire season is upon us once again. The fire danger is in the extreme range and our firefighters are on high alert. Soon, the Santa Ana winds will be blowing with tornado force and one spark could force a third exodus from our tight-knit community.

Within forty eight hours of our first evacuation, there was a knock on the door at the home we stayed in. The man knocking was a federal firefighter who had been separated from his crew. He checked in with his captain and was told to stay in the community and help any way he could. He went to businesses on Main street and asked for food and water to take to the front lines. By the time he reached out to us, he had already logged over 1,500 miles on his truck delivering supplies to our beloved firefighters.

My friend promised our wives that if we helped him, we would be far from the flames (mostly true). We got some quick training in fire protection and stopped by the base to get some fire clothes before making our first round of deliveries to the front lines.

My friend bought a blue strobe light at K-mart and then used his badge to get us through the barricaded roads. The firefighters were all connected by radios and generally worked in pairs. They would come out of the Cleveland National Forest to get a water bottle or some food and then disappear. This went on for miles. There were firefighters from all over California helping to save our homes.

One of the female firefighters we met was craving peanut butter. We told her it was the least we could do. Many stores donated like Taco Bell, and KFC but the one I will never forget is Albertson's. They were in the middle of a strike when we asked for donations and they told us we could have anything we needed in the produce section. We loaded two trucks to the max with bananas, apples, water and... one jar of peanut butter. At the end of the day, we finally found the firefighter that requested the peanut butter and she ate it right out of the jar. Sadly, one of the other firefighters we fed would be eating for the last time. He lost his life fighting to save someone's property.

We continued our journey for two days and stopped once the roads were cut off due to the encroaching fire. I will never forget what I saw behind the scenes. These firefighters are some of the bravest people I have ever met.

The firefighters told me later that my next door neighbor lost her home before they could get to it. Her home became a "fire chimney" and deflected the flames from our home. Our home was filled with soot because we left so quickly that we did not close all the windows. We lost every plant around our home except for some pine trees in our front yard that we nursed back to life.

Another neighbor hooked garden hoses together and put out spot fires on all four sides of our home after the firefighters moved to the next community. It is tough times like these that bring out the best in people.

As another fire season approaches, keep our firefighters in your prayers. If you see one in your community, give him or her a big hug from all the gracious people in my community. I am keeping an extra jar of peanut butter in my pantry, just in case there is another special request.

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