THANK YOU FIREFIGHTERS!

By JOHN M. DERBY
Times Founding Publisher
August 16, 2018

The sign was not a professionally made sign; only a piece of cardboard about 3 x 4 feet beside Highway 132, heading to Yosemite near Greeley Hill.
The firefighters who used the road to get to the Ferguson Fire would not have missed it. The message was simple and clear: “Thank you Fire Fighters.”
Thank you to the more than 10,000 firefighters who are on the front line, fighting fires which are some of the largest fires California has ever witnessed. One account we heard was that there were 18 forest fires being fought at one time in California.
The Redding and Mendocino-complex fires have combined to be the largest forest fires on record, and they are not completely out at over 400,000 acres.
Lives are being lost, including the very best of the best, firefighters known as Hot Shots. These are the elite firefighting crews who go where no other men and women go. They are brought in from all parts of the country because of their special skills, but one of them was lost when a large tree fell down.
There are hardly any families in California who do not have one of their own members or a friend who is involved in protecting our state from the fires.
Even this journalist has a small piece of mountain property which has years of undergrowth waiting for a burning ember to jump from the fire line only 12 miles away. We have been up at the property two to three days a week, focusing on clearing and removal of the flammable material. It is an unending job.
Someone remarked that the forest fires in California are part of the “new normal” because of the drought years and the beetles which invade the pine forests. One in every six trees on our property are dead but still standing and waiting for the big wind that will blow them down or the forest fire which will consume them.
Our property is somewhat level. The mountains which firefighters are being asked to fight fires are the most difficult terrain possible. Vehicles and equipment are unable to get close to much of the fire area, so the firefighters work from base camps and try to save people first, and homes when they can.
One of the tragedies is that these homes, when they burn, take years of memories with them, which can never be replaced. There is no more desperate sight than a family returning after a fire to see their home in nothing but ashes.
Sometimes it has been the home of the firefighter, who was off fighting to save another person’s home, while his or her own home was being burned to the ground.
Just as in wars being fought in foreign lands, these “soldiers of the forest” must be away from their families for long periods of time. Conditions are better than they once were, but still the comforts of home and not seeing their children and wife or husband, takes its toll.
These are not nine to five days either. Fires do not burn by the clock. Sleep comes when one can get it. Time on the firing line adds up and wears down the body.
Let’s take a moment to salute these men and women on the firing line; “Our Firefighters.”
That hand-painted sign by the roadside says it for all of us: “Thank You Firefighters.”


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