Monday, July 8, 2013

Fire Season

Last month Prescott was threatened with the Doce fire. Roads were closed, neighborhoods were evacuated, and fire fighters came from all over the West to assist in the fight. The high school near my house was turned into a home base for all the visiting hot shot crews and support personnel. One morning as I walked Harvey I counted trucks representing more than 12 different fire districts from around Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, and even Montana. Trucks returning from long days and nights in the field wafted thick, warm scents of forest fire as they drove by. Seeing the tents on the baseball field, the exhausted firefighters sleeping on the pavement next to their gear and their trucks, and the full operation of the emergency services was a daily reminder for me of how far from home each one of those people traveled to willingly put themselves in harm's way and to spend excruciatingly long and difficult shifts on the front line without even the promise of a cool shower or a soft bed as a reward at the end of it. The fire never made it into Prescott, but it did burn up the Granite Mountain wilderness area, which is visible from pretty much every part of town. Luckily, no structures were lost and the only injury was a bee sting. Prescott was very, very fortunate to have such a strong support crew protecting property and lives.

The Doce fire blazing atop Granite Mountain.

Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of fire season in Arizona. As soon as the Doce fire was under control and no longer a threat to the town, fires started popping up all over. The Prescott fire crews were able to make it out of town to help out at other hotspots. Unfortunately, the outstanding success with the Doce fire was not repeated in the town of Yarnell. The Yarnell Hill fire ravaged the town and 19 members of Prescott's Granite Mountain Hot Shot crew were killed when a quick turn of the winds sent the blaze unexpectedly in their direction. The loss has made national news and people all over the country are grieving. The tragedy has of course rocked Prescott to the core. During the week of 4th of July, immediately following the tragedy, every celebration of freedom and independence was intertwined with praise and memorial for the firefighters.

I didn't know any of the hot shots who died but no matter... every fire truck, every purple ribbon on every business, every sign with a shout out to "The Heroic 19", and every incredibly friendly and polite member of the Black Mesa hot shot crew that just bought coffee from me brings tears welling up behind my eyes. I've been conflicted about how to honor the fire crews and their support teams. I do believe they deserve respect, from the nineteen who lost their lives to every firefighter that puts him or herself in harms way and all the way down to the folks behind the scenes, but on the other hand I don't know any of the guys who died. I would like to leave space for their friends and family and I feel incredibly resistant to the "tragedy tourism" that goes along with devastating events. Do I buy a T-shirt or make a prayer flag? If I do, why? Is wearing a T-shirt a sign of support or just a boast of "I was there"? What about that girl with the fresh ink on her shoulder, "...something, something about our brave 19"? If I don't make a sign for the fence and everyone else does, what does that say about me? I didn't even give the Black Mesa hot shots discounts on their coffees...

A recent meme on facebook read, "There comes a time in life when you walk away from all the drama and the people who create it. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh, forget the bad, and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right. Pray for the ones who don't. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is part of life, getting back up is living." For now, I think the best way that I can honor all those fighting to protect our homes and land is to keep on living. Firefighters are risking their lives so that my life can keep on as normal. I think we can all honor their efforts by living as best we can, by staying happy and healthy, by not putting too much dependence on our material possessions, and by taking the time to appreciate what we do have and, more importantly, the people around us who make our lives better. A warm smile and a good laugh go a lot farther than a few cents on a coffee anyway.