As wild fires continue to ravage the western United States, I sit and I wait. Right now California is in my main focus. The horrible drought drying up our forests, bringing on insect infestation is making these fires hot and giving them plenty of fuel to rage across the terrain. As this fire season continues to claim the land of epic proportions, I can't help but look at the numbers. Just yesterday alone California had 18 fires burning and over 7000 acres were claimed...just yesterday! This year to date, almost 7000 fires and over 450,000 acres scorched! The Rough fire which is burning in the sequoia national forest has burned over 53,000 acres since it started on July 31, from a lightning strike. There are 2152 personnel tending to this fire. One of these 2152 is my brother!
There are 2152 brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, sons and daughters who got the call. 2152 Heroes who had to pack their bags, kiss their children and loved ones goodbye to head out to a monster that is forcing others to leave and find safety. 2152 well trained (physically and emotionally) members of some one's family putting their lives on the line to protect and save forests, properties, and other lives.
I get comfort in knowing my brother is smart and well trained. What scares me is he is also human and has a good heart. These men and women go out there and put their lives on the line not because they want praise, but because they thoroughly enjoy what they do! They fill with pride when they are able to save some one's home or barn, an old tree that may still have a chance, an animal that is scared and lost. This is what scares me! If these Heroes think they may have the slight chance of saving your home that is surrounded by flames they are going to do everything they can to do that! When others run out...they run in! I often turn on the news only to quickly scan the videos and photography hoping to catch a glimpse of my loved one on the fire line. Most times they are too busy to check in, or have no signal while fighting these fires. I follow along on various social media sites to get the updated information on what ever fire "we" are on. I worry, I pray, and I wait.
I count down the hours of when his shift should be done in hopes of hearing something...anything. A picture of fire camp or the pop tart he is having for breakfast, anything to let me know he is still alive! I grew up with my papa who was a retired fire fighter. He retired after being injured on a fire when a burning tree fell on his head. He lived the rest of his life with a plate in his head and his arm stuck at a ninety degree angle from not healing properly. This is how I knew him all of my life and never really realized how incredibly lucky I was to have him in my life until recently. Within ten days of each other the U.S. forest service lost two of their own. One only 21 years old named Michael Hallenbeck of Shingle Springs, California. He and another fire fighter were struck by a falling tree during the initial attack on the Sierra Fire, in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Michael Hallenbeck was a member of organized crew 36 on the LTBMU. The Second USFS firefighter making his final call was David Ruhl, he was entrapped by fire and killed in the initial attack on the Frog Fire in the Modoc National Forest in Northern California. If this was not hard enough on this brotherhood just last week they lost three more of their brothers to the Twisp fire in North Central Washington. A college student, graduate, and professional firefighter died after their truck crashed and the flames consumed them as they tried to escape. Tom Zbyszewski, Richard Wheeler, and Andrew Zajac died doing what they loved and will be greatly missed. I want to offer my condolences to these young men's family. I can't even begin to fathom the pain they must be feeling.