The Firefighters and First Responders Are the True Hero’s

Looking out our back patio a week ago today, when the Apple Fire was in its infancy. Just a small amount of smoke, but in a matter of hours it exploded.

Greetings to all Boomers and seniors joining us.

This summer has been a hot one so far.  But we certainly didn’t expect a major fire the first week of August.  In southern and northern California we are used to wildfires at this time of year.  I really shouldn’t say used to them, because no one really gets used to them.  But due to the arid landscape, droughts and Santa Ana winds, they have become more commonplace…the end result is the devastation remains the same.  Terrible.

Fires seem to be happening more and more in the mountain states often caused by lightening strikes.  My sister who lives in Colorado Springs has witnessed several during the past two years.  In Bend, Oregon where we had a second home, the beetles (not the rock group) ate into many of the pine trees causing the trees to die and wither due to beetle rot, providing excellent fuel for fires.  I’m sure where you live or have lived, you probably have experienced some of the same. 

We all love a warm fire in the winter, either for the warmth or the ambience.  Outdoor firepits in the backyard or while camping are wonderful at virtually anytime of year, because they can mean a gathering place of fine people with food and drinks and social grace.  Creating great memories.

Unfortunately, these were not the type of fires for which we got notice this past weekend.  It was a blaring noise on the cell phone with a fire alert in the area of Cherry Valley, California.  This is adjacent to where we keep my parent’s little house and it was very close to the nursing home in which they reside.  The fire actually skirted just several blocks away forcing some discussion about evacuating the nursing home.  During COVID-19!!!

You may have heard of the fire called the ‘Apple Fire’ because it made national news.  How it started is still under investigation, but it has truly been a significant event in this quiet, little community about 1½ hours east of L.A., in the foothills of the San Gorgonio and San Bernardino mountains.  

After the notice, we drove over to check on the house and prepare for the inevitable evacuation.  The sky was ablaze with red and orange which could be seen from the back patio.  The thing about fires of this nature is that you can never be far enough away due to flying embers carried by stiff winds.  The fire and smoke can be deadly.

A closer view of the increasing fire from the same vantage point as the first photo.
Within a matter of hours…the flames erupted threatening countless homes, residents, ranches and animals. If you look real hard you can see an air support DC-10 returning from a retardant drop–lower left hand quadrant. It’s also interesting the heat and smoke will create their own weather system which is forming with the white tipped clouds at the top of the photo.

Not knowing what to expect, we had our “Go Bag” and were prepared to remove a few critical items from the house should the evacuation order come.  Everyone living in this fine country should have an evacuation plan…just in case.  Whether it be wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, etc. it pays to be prepared, and ultimately safe.  Why?  Because my BoomerGuy and I have lived through several wild-fires, tornadoes, and earthquakes so we have a bit of experience and intelligence about how to survive.

Next week, I will post another blog detailing not only an evacuation plan, but also the contents of our Go Bag and what you should take with you.  It is something we always have at the ready, because you never know what Mother Nature might throw at you.

So here we are, right in the middle of a coronavirus outbreak and the fire decides to erupt.  The evacuation center was at the local high school, but before you were allowed to enter, you had to be tested.  We’re so thankful we didn’t have to be evacuated.  This area of southern California is known for horse and livestock ranches, and of course, they had to be removed to safer grounds.  Some the of the ranches are destination resorts and have a tremendous amount of native American history associated with them, in addition to archaeological finds and fossils dating back millions of years.  

This area is nowhere near pristine, but it is serene and beautiful with the local mountains soaring thousands of feet above the deck.  And the neighbors all band together in such times of need and uncertainty, and we all try to do our part.  But none so much as the firefighters who risk their lives to protect the homes, residents, ranches, precious animals, and well-being of our communities.  

An early sunrise where it’s difficult to distinguish between the sun and the fire.

Just in case you’re wondering, the firefighters are the true hero’s of America, along with the many pilots of the air tankers who risk their lives dropping water and fire retardant day and night, without whom many fires would still be unchecked.  They put everything on the line to serve and protect.  They experience some of the most grueling terrain and then pitch their tents for what they’re hoping will be a good night’s sleep.  

Just when we thought the fires were under control, they flared up again in the higher elevations of the San Bernardino Mountains, which are largely inaccessible ravines and deep crevices. Air tankers with fire retardant are the best solutions for containing fires at these elevations, but terribly risky flight conditions.

While my BoomerGuy and I were out grocery shopping the other day, we passed by a group of firefighters taking a break under the shade of several trees—the temperature gauge on the car at the time registered 103 degrees.  They were spent.  We thought about what we could do to make a difference and decided to return to the grocery and purchase several cases of water and bags of ice.  We returned to the scene, they were still there, and together we unloaded the trunk.  They were the most grateful bunch of guys you can imagine.  Oh, and ladies, by the way, one of prerequisites for being a firefighter is being extraordinarily good looking—and these guys were every bit that. 

Our bags of water and ice and the wonderful firefighters keeping us safe.
Their transportation was all prepped and ready.

I spoke to my sister who happened to work with the fire department in Orange County and asked if being good looking was a requirement.  She laughed and said the training is rigorous, the work demanding, the environment competitive, and yes, they have to be good looking.  Ha.  Too funny.  Were we ever that young?

Just visited the little house with the big views of the mountains and the golf course again before the weekend.  We wanted to check on the progress of the containment and could still see the flicker of red flames against the hillsides and the top of the crests which are approximately 10,000 feet in elevation.  These areas are primarily deep ravines and extraordinarily difficult to get to, so there is reliance on the air support to douse the fires.  The helicopters and tankers were flying all night long and of course during the day, as well.

On our bike ride this morning, we could see wisps of smoke curling up from the hills and gaining in strength over the Morongo Indian Reservation.  The smoke has been fierce and is also settling over the Cabazon Outlet Mall which is one of the largest outdoor shopping outlets in the country.  If you’re planning a shopping trip, it’s just another good reason to wear a mask.

Here is a big thank you to all firefighters, first responders, paramedics, pilots and behind the scenes support crews for helping to contain this ugly, devastating fire, in addition to all the good they do for our communities on a daily basis.  

Be safe out there and look for that all important “survival” blog next week.

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