By David Liebler.
I am standing next to Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin on a hilltop looking out at the devastated landscape caused by the Rocky Fire. Nearby are the ruins of a residence and a burned out vehicle. Although fire roared through this area two days prior, you can still feel the heat rising up off the hillside. Wisps of smoke are tell-tale signs that the fire – with just enough wind – could re-emerge in this area. The Sheriff doesn’t like what he sees and feels and requests that we leave the area immediately. I don’t argue.
As I write this back in the safe confines of my Sacramento office, the Rocky Fire is still burning; it knows no boundaries, having spilled over into adjacent Colusa and Yolo Counties. It has hopped Highway 20, shutting down a major artery through Lake County. More than 3,600 firefighters from through California have been battling this unpredictable blaze for more than a week. And while scores of structures have been lost, casualties have been non-existent – fingers crossed.
Although not far from the Bay Area and adjacent to the suburban counties of Napa and Sonoma, Lake County is primarily rural. It is home to 65,000 residents – the vast majority who live outside of the county’s small cities. Like many rural counties, Lake does not have the resources or experience to fight an enemy like Rocky alone. And that’s where the value of the state’s mutual aid system comes into place.
For the past week, Lake has not been fighting alone. You can find firefighters from throughout the state on the front lines. Engine logos and names from counties, cities and fire districts are abundant. And in the Emergency Operation Center, emergency services veterans from all levels of government are working side by side. They put their experience and skills to the test. And yes, they even hope to leave with additional knowledge they can use down the road.
The firefighters and individuals running the Emergency Operations Center and Incident Command Post are weary-eyed. Since the fire does not sleep, the battle continues around the clock. Days run into each other – in fact, they are irrelevant. But there are smiles when those fighting the blaze see the many signs of gratitude put up by local residents. “Thank you Firefighters.” “We love you Firefighters.” Fence after fence is adorned with these notes. The appreciation is strong.
In this battle versus nature, man will win – but only through a joint effort of dedicated individuals from throughout California. The Rocky Fire is just one of numerous blazes that can be found around the state – Trinity, Madera, Del Norte, Shasta, Fresno… the list goes on and on. And by the time you read this, new fires will have probably broken out. They have different names and pose different levels of threats. But they have one thing in common. Like the blazes they fight, the firefighters and emergency services personnel know no county boundaries. They will be fighting side by side with their counterparts around the state. And that is critical – since fire season is just starting.
David Liebler is the Deputy Director of Public Affairs & Member Services for the California State Association of Counties.