By Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa.
Like so many Californians, I am watching the wildfire season this year with a mixture of awe and concern, but not surprise. We knew that in this fourth year of drought the fire threat would be at an all-time high. All the same, when you see people on TV who have just lost their homes and livelihoods, you can’t help but wonder how you would respond? How would you face that loss?
That may be why there is also a fascination with Mother Nature at her angriest. Most of the time our world is relatively benign and it is easy to believe we are in control. A big wildfire or any other major natural disaster is a reminder that we are all relatively small compared to the forces of nature.
Just ask the people of Lake County. First the Rocky Fire burned through thousands of acres of dry hills and ravines, destroyed dozens of homes and forced hundreds of families to evacuate. Now the Jerusalem Fire is displacing another group of people. And this is still mid-August. The fire season in California can last well into October.
So while we watch with awe and fascination as fires burn in several counties all over California, let me make sure to add my thanks for the firefighters and emergency personnel who have come from all over the state – and some from out of state, to help us. I am saddened by the loss of two U.S. Forest Service firefighters, one earlier this month in Modoc County, and another more recently in El Dorado County.
You just cannot overstate the debt of gratitude we owe to them and their families—and to all of those who are on the fire lines. We can help begin to address that debt by being extra careful with power tools and anything else that can spark a fire. We can take precaution and develop defensible space around our homes. If you live in wildfire country, give the firefighters a fighting chance by clearing brush and tree branches away from the house and outbuildings.
I am worried about what is yet to come in this fire season, and if the forecasters are right, in the potential for flooding in the El Nino year that’s on the horizon. But these tragedies always seem to bring out the best in people. All around the state where fires threaten, we see neighbor helping neighbor and county helping county. Mutual aid and cooperation among CalFire and regional, county and city fire departments and other first-responders has never been stronger. I find hope in that cooperation and collaboration.
Mother Nature sometimes shrugs her shoulders and interrupts our lives with fires, floods, earthquakes and other disasters. It is in our response to these events that we see the best of Human Nature. It is this cooperation among neighbors and among public officials from different jurisdictions that offers protection to lives, homes and business. When we work together, we can begin to quiet Mother Nature’s angry outbursts.