A Tribute to Real Heroes – Voices of Monterey Bay

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By Robert Holmes

As I sit on one of the wooden benches that overlooks Santa Cruz North Harbor in the community of Live Oak, the air is clean and the sky is grayish-blue and I’m thankful.

Ever since the freakish lightning storm that ignited the CZU August Lightning Complex fires, the men and women of Cal Fire and many others have been fighting a battle to protect homes, livelihoods and lives. It felt wrong not to write something that says “thank you” to those brave souls and the thousands like them who choose to stand on the frontlines and the teams that support them.

I remember on Aug. 17 waking up at about 2 a.m. to the sound of someone pounding on my roof and wondering, “What the hell? Who’s beating on my roof at this hour?” As though beating on my roof at any other hour would’ve been acceptable.

I initially thought it was crows, since they frequently can be heard scrabbling across the aluminum roof of our mobile home, but that couldn’t be right. It was way too early in the morning for those feathered knuckleheads to be awake, and beyond that — crows aren’t that heavy. No, the pounding on my roof, I realized, was thunder. A flash of lightning lighting up the black sky at that moment as if simulating my flash of understanding.

California generally doesn’t see too many lightning storms, so I stayed up to watch the show nature was putting on with sudden winds, brief rain and peals of thunder. It didn’t occur to me until after the fact that a dry lightning storm probably isn’t ideal during California fire season, and until the Santa Cruz skies were filled with smoke and raining ash, it didn’t occur to me just how close to home that fire season really was.

Most people pay lip service to the bravery of firefighters, but only have a vague awareness of their civil importance. Controlled burns, the building of fire breaks, and other regular fire prevention maintenance usually makes having clarity about that importance unnecessary, but when nature decides throw down three-hundred-and-some-change bolts of sky-fire in a single night, or when parents decide to set off pyrotechnics during a gender reveal party (Can we stop this idiotic practice by the way? Thanks), and it all happens on one of the driest summers on record, the fires will come, prevention be damned. Thankfully those same people doing the controlled burns are ready when the fires start to rage.

If you haven’t already, thank your local firefighters not just for their service, but for their choice.

Back in March, when the whole COVID-19 thing was getting into full swing, there was a lot of talk  about retail professionals like myself being “frontline heroes” and whatnot. I’ll admit it was nice to be appreciated for the work people like me do, but the notion of being a hero rang as hollow and silly back then as it does now. More so now because I’ve been frequently interacting with the people who do real risk work. COVID-19 is dangerous, but not as dangerous as a forest blaze that can get upwards of 800º C (1,472º F), or black clouds of suffocating carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

At the moment I am typing this, more than 70-plus fires are being fought along the West Coast in California, Oregon and Washington, the Bay Area sky was orange at one point due to a thick layer of smoke that was trapped in an inversion layer, smoke from three states worth of fire has reached all the way across to Europe thanks to the jetstream, and more than 6 million acres of land have been torched.

In the middle of all of it are tens of thousands of volunteers and professionals doing their due diligence to protect who and what they can against what seems like a never-ending tidal wave of flame.

If you haven’t already, thank your local firefighters not just for their service, but for their choice. Ask one of them and they’ll probably say they are just doing their job; it’s what they signed up for. Maybe so, but they still do a job that the average person can’t, and they are still the ones keeping the public safe.

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Author: The Covid-19 Channel