Inevitably, reports of wildfires involve numbers: number of acres burned, buildings threatened, homes destroyed, people evacuated, firefighters, engines and aircraft deployed, and estimated hours (or days) until full containment.
It’s easy to become numb to so many numbers, especially as a fire rolls on for days, as the Chimney Fire has done.
Look beyond the numbers, though, and you’ll find stories.
Stories of neighbors helping neighbors; volunteers setting aside summer plans to lend a hand; strangers opening hearts and wallets to help; and locals doing whatever they can to show gratitude to firefighters working ‘round the clock — whether it’s by tacking up a homemade “thank you” sign, pouring coffee for fire-weary troops or offering to pay for a meal or a bag of groceries.
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Here’s one of our favorite stories Tribune reporter Kathe Tanner posted on Facebook:
“Cambria spirit under pressure? You bet.
When North Coast residents and visitors were dining today (Aug. 19) at Redwood Cafe in Cambria, a company of 20 firefighters came in from the Chimney Fire. One by one, the other customers told restaurant owner Rick Pfannkuche that they wanted to buy a meal for a firefighter. One customer wanted to pay for four of them. Not one of those firefighters had to pay for his or her own meal. Later, 10 more firefighters came in, and Pfannkuche’s employees combined their tips and other donations to pay for the meals (with some financial assistance from their boss).
“That, my friends, is Cambria spirit.”
Well said, Kathe.
We might add that such spirit is not limited to Cambria. We’ve heard similar stories from other parts of San Luis Obispo County, and we expect more of the same is happening in fire-threatened communities in nearby Santa Barbara and Monterey counties — and, indeed, in all communities across the West that are under siege in this particularly ferocious fire season.
We aren’t surprised by the outpouring of gratitude. Still, it’s awesome to see such a display of good, old-fashioned human decency and concern for those who put themselves in harm’s way.
Thankfully, no serious injuries or fatalities have been reported so far on the Chimney Fire.
That has not been the case elsewhere, which brings us to yet another number: 52 active-duty firefighters have died so far this year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
The most recent death occurred Aug. 13 in Nevada. U.S. Forest Service firefighter Justin Beebe, 26, a member of the Missoula-based Lolo Hotshots, was killed by a falling tree while battling the Strawberry Fire in Great Basin National Park.
Closer to home, Robert Reagan III, 35, suffered fatal injuries July 26 when his bulldozer overturned while he was working the Soberanes Fire in Big Sur.
These should serve as sobering reminders to do everything in our power to prevent fires from starting in the first place.
Case in point: The Soberanes Fire, on which Reagan died, was started by an illegal, unattended campfire.
Yet, even that was not enough of a lesson. As recently as a few days ago, there were reports of people continuing to light illegal campfires along the coast.
So by all means, let’s continue to show our gratitude to firefighters battling the Chimney Fire. They deserve it. But it can’t end there.
To truly show our appreciation to firefighters and other safety personnel, can we all vow to scrupulously follow common-sense fire safety rules?
Here’s a quick refresher course in fire safety rules:
▪ Contact 911 if you spot an unattended or out-of-control fire.
▪ Never leave a campfire unattended.
▪ Do not discard cigarettes, matches or smoking materials from moving vehicles, or anywhere on park grounds. Be certain to completely extinguish cigarettes before disposing of them.
▪ Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained, with nothing dragging on the ground.
▪ For a complete list, go to www.preventwildfireca.org.
How to help
To donate to Red Cross, go to www.redcross.org, call 800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767) or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
The San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation has activated its disaster support fund to help victims of the Chimney Fire. Mail donations to the foundation at 550 Dana St., San Luis Obispo, go to the foundation’s webpage at http://www.cfsloco.org or call 805-543-2323.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to benefit the Robert Reagan’s wife and two young daughters. Go to www.gofundme.com/2gtqxkxv.