Heroic effort in Waterfall fire deserves recognition
As last week’s fire in Carson City started winding down by weekend’s end, the signs started coming out: “Thank you firefighters!” and “We can’t express our gratitude” painted on pieces of cardboard propped up against mailboxes. Grateful residents left gifts of bottled water and fresh baked cookies for the personnel moving through their neighborhoods.
The Waterfall Fire is the worst this area has seen in a long time in terms of damage and resources. After the initial attack July 14 the fire did not quit, and the first responders were rebuffed by wind-whipped flames changing direction and burning over several cars and decimating homes. TV anchorman John Tyson even received minor burns in the melee (the vehicle he was driving also burned), and we all saw the television images of people – including news crews – scrambling out of Kings Canyon as the fire turned.
What followed was another heroic effort by the men and women in uniform who presented a united front against a fire out of control. As the acreage expanded from the 10s to the 100s and pushed north toward homes, firefighters regrouped, evaluated their strategy and went to work building fire lines around neighborhoods and on the ridges below Tahoe. Airplane and helicopter pilots, sharing airspace, dropped fire retardant and water with graceful precision in what had to be an extraordinary logistical nightmare. They coordinated their effort with the ground crews who made quick headway despite unpredictable obstacles.
On the ground, law enforcement quickly moved threatened residents to evacuation centers. As usual, the Red Cross was immediately on the scene, providing temporary housing and food for those displaced by the fire. In only a day, firefighters from communities throughout Nevada and Northern California were on scene, working with a coherent command structure. At its peak, the Waterfall Fire had about 1,900 firefighters working the blaze. Approximately 1,000 homes were threatened. Thanks to the efforts of those dedicated heroes, only 15 homes were lost, only dozen structures in all. As the fire calmed down over the weekend most evacuated residents were able to return to intact homes. While we feel for those whose homes were lost, we are thankful the damage was not worse.
In Tahoe, only a few miles from the closest flames, we can breath a sigh of relief: The fire did not crest and come into the basin. The potential for a greater tragedy was averted thanks to help from Mother Nature and the quick thinking and orchestrated effort of the firefighters who put their lives on the line. Fire fuels management also played a hand in slowing the progression, another reminder that proactively fighting fire is the best insurance against being caught off guard.
Indeed, there is little we can do to thank the heroes for their effort.
The pay they earn is paltry when balanced against the risk of the job, and sometimes the thrill can be overshadowed.
Even if the best our Nevada neighbors can do is bottled water and cookies, public safety officials have to know there is much more meaning behind the gifts.