I live in a county in East Texas that has been ravaged this week by wildfires.
The community outpouring I have seen has been incredible. A few requests announcing the need for food, water, Gatorade, etc for our fire fighters; most of whom are volunteers, was all it took. So began the pilgrimage, families, churches and individuals, began arriving to drop off these supplies at our local Sheriff's office. Even more volunteers arrived to pick up supplies and take them to the field where they were needed. Area businesses stepped up and donated items. One employee at a local business told me her store manager was unavailable, but to have someone stop by and she would personally donate 10 cases of water. That employee together with several others at that location ended up donating over 30 cases of water! Swabbing companies started arriving with trucks to haul barrels and or gallons of water to firefighters on the battlefield. Still other companies came with heavy equipment and dozers. Citizens arrived at command centers with filled gas cans for emergency vehicles. The Texas Forestry service jumped in to help; no small thing due to the high demand in our state right now on their resources. VFD's from surrounding counties arrived to help fight the fires, our own agencies crossing county lines at times to help get fires under control.
These brave fire fighters worked tirelessly; some as many as 30 or more hours straight, to protect lives and homes. They are heroes in my eyes and in my heart. I had one of them share with me that in all the years he has been a fire fighter he has never been afraid; until Sunday. He said all he would have needed to do was stay put for just a minute and he would have been covered by the fire.
Our local deputies were amazing also, many checking on duty early, many staying long past the end of their shift to help where they were needed; many knowing their own homes were in the danger zone. One deputy told me of a harrowing experience he had while going door to door evacuating area residents to safety, he turned around only to see a huge wall of smoke billowing toward him with alarming speed. Another shared with me the horror of hearing a propane tank explode at a residence he was evacuating. Knowing how close and real the danger was is surreal to say the least.
Our Sheriff and Chief as well as the Captain could all be found in the thick of things,even carrying supplies when needed. I can recall hearing their voices on the radio from the abiss at times and experienced the same confidence other citizens surely felt while following the action on their living room scanners. The smell of smoke from their clothes filling our dispatch center as they stopped in to get updates on all locations was a reality check for just how close they were to the front lines.
Working with these individuals is a privilege and I have gained a renewed respect for the job they do everyday. A testament to their diligence is evidenced in the relatively small number of structures lost (though one is too many), and even smaller number of injuries to emergency responders and residents. I don't recall hearing of any injuries in fact.
Actually seeing the areas that burned is a humbling experience. We were out today to see some of the areas affected; it sure puts things into perspective. The smell was like a campfire on steroids; with many of the areas still smoldering. The heat was unreal coming off a few hot-spots we encountered. I can't even imagine the fear of looking across a field behind my house and seeing a wall of flames licking their way toward my home. I shudder to think of the frantic knock at the door in the wee hours of the morning and having a deputy tell me to gather what I could and evacuate within thirty minutes. All too real experiences for many residents in our county.
My partner at work asked the profound question during some of our busiest radio traffic, "Can you imagine what it sounded like in that dispatch center in New York the day of 9-11"? This in the pre-days of the 10th anniversary of that fateful day, serve to remind us of the tremendous outpouring and resolve of the citizens of this great Nation.
Our community is still in the midst of fighting these wildfires, fueled by hot dry winds and extreme drought conditions. Knowing that things could get much worse only steels ones resolve to jump in and help. I pray that none of us become complacent when the smoke is gone and the dust has settled. May we remember these days and remember our selfless emergency personnel who drop everything to answer the call at a moments notice.
Our community will recover, and we will be stronger for it. A trial by fire if you will.