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
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
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
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.”