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Fire and pain

Bless the firefighters.I wanted to say that before they begin the hard part of their year. With the diminishing snowpack and the searing heat, it is just a matter of time before the regulars and reserves will be called in to drive or dive into the chaparral and scrub oak and cut a line that will protect us from the devastation that is all but inevitable. The closer we come to the wilderness the more we rely on our firefighters.Of all the heroes out there I have always held firefighters up as the most heroic. Underpaid, overworked, appreciated only when they are called in to save someone’s home, these men and women display selfless courage in the face of the most awesome of earthly foes, the wildfire.This esteem had its genesis early in my life when, as a Southern California resident, I lived through a series of wind-driven brush fires, one of which burned my house to the ground. I remember evacuating our home in the fall of each year, like clockwork, when the Santa Ana winds would kick up, drying the brush and bringing out the twitchy firebugs who needed to watch something burn. I would watch in both awe and gratitude as the red trucks, filled with ash-smudged firefighters, would race up the closed canyon roads, disappearing into the heated smoke. How did they do it, I wondered? Where did their fearlessness come from? The first year I moved to Aspen I remember standing outside on a July afternoon looking at a sky to the west that was as black as I imagine hell to be. Helicopters and planes were hovering above the fire that would eventually trap and kill 14 firefighters, including nine of the Prineville Hotshots, who came from Oregon to help battle the fire. Anyone who was here that afternoon, or who has since hiked to the Storm King Monument, no doubt has a place seared in their memory of that horrible day and the toll the fire took.If you neither remember nor have visited Storm King, be sure to pick up John N. Maclean’s gripping book “Fire on the Mountain,” which tells the tale of that 1994 tragedy. It is eerily reminiscent of a book written by Maclean’s father, Norman, just four years earlier titled “Young Men and Fire,” which documented the deaths of young smokejumpers in the notorious Mann Gulch fire of 1949.This summer I implore everyone to use your ashtrays instead of flipping your cigs out the windows, make sure your campfires are in enclosed areas and are out when you leave them, be careful with your barbecues, and watch the sparks emanating from your grills. And don’t mess around with fireworks. In short, pay attention. Let’s do all we can to keep our heroes at home this summer.


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