Firefighters risk all for others

Sierra Star

A total of about 2,000 front-line firefighters fought the two large wildland fires that recently terrified the Mountain Area - the Railroad Fire in Fish Camp and the Mission Fire just east of North Fork at Cascadel Heights and Cascadel Meadows.

The Railroad Fire started on Aug. 29, then the Mission Fire just five days later on Sept. 3.

Total personnel (firefighters, pilots, mechanics, dozier operators, cooks and kitchen staff, ground staff, supplies, admin, record keeping, and public information officers to name a few), working both fires reached nearly 3,000. The equipment for both fires included 230 fire engines, 50 hand crews, 36 dozers, 32 water tenders, 14 helicopters. Up to six air tankers fought the fires, although at times they were scarce because they were being shared with up to 20 other fires throughout the state.

The firemen came from close to 90 different stations from California and a few from out of state to protect lives and property.

Both fires were hard to fight, roaring through large stands of dead trees from the bark beetle infestation and the six-year drought, 100-degree temperatures, inaccessible terrain, and at times, erratic, gusty winds.

Before they could be brought under control, combined they scorched close to 15,000 acres, while destroying 20 structures, including seven homes, and five historical structures in our Mountain Area, while threatening many more.

They fought these fires day and night and successfully did all they could to save many hundreds of homes in Cascadel Woods and Cascadel Heights, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, the Tenaya Lodge, the 135 homes in Cedar Valley, the Episcopal Conference Center, homes in the Sky Ranch area and along Road 600, historic cabins in Nelder Grove and many other historic buildings in Sugar Pine passed down through generations of families including the general store, the hospital, the doctor’s residence, and the community hall.

The fires, with their huge, intimidating smoke plumes clearly visible day after day, had the entire Mountain Area on edge for two weeks, and were the main topic of conversation around town. Whether you were at the post office, gas station, hair salon, restaurant, or supermarket, it was easy to see the fire was creating a fair amount of anxiety.

They were certainly scary to the hundreds of people who had to pack up their cars on short notice and leave their homes - many not knowing if their home was safe or not until they were allowed to return after a number of days.

Although both fires seemed to have been caused by human accidents, fire investigators have yet to release the official details.

Regardless of how they started, the firefighters deserve a big and sincere ‘thank you’ from everyone in the area. They risked their lives to protect ours, and the many homes that were threatened. They are real heroes - not the grossly overpaid quarterback on your favorite NFL team or some actor in an action movie.

And let’s not forget all the sheriff deputies and CHP officers who acted quickly and efficiently in support of the firefighting efforts, or the Red Cross that seems to instantly arrive when needed to provide comfort to those in need.