On Tuesday my sketch buddies and I headed out to Alliance Redwoods Conference Center in Camp Meeker, CA. where the fire fighting strike teams from all over the state were being housed between shifts of firefighting. We wanted to try to tell another part of the story of the fire storms that have so far burned over 100,000acres in Napa and Sonoma counties, the deadliest of which has claimed at least 22 lives, burned thousands of homes to the ground, displaced many thousands more in evacuations, and destroyed many of our beautiful parks, vineyards and more.
As we drove out country roads to the camp, there were frequent reminders of the gratitude that this community has for these fire fighters who are the undisputed heros of the day. Signs were posted on many properties with bright Thank You Firefighters messages. We found ourselves in a caravan of fire trucks all the way out.
When we arrived we signed in and were given Visitor badges. Wanting to stay out of the way, yet have a good vantage point for sketching, we went to the end of the parking lot filled with trucks, and started sketching.
Lamy Joy fountain pen and watercolor in Canson Mixed Media 9 X 12″ sketchbook
As we were sketching there was a trickle of firefighters walking by. We soon discovered that we were almost as interesting to them as they were to us. For many of them it was rest time and they were at ease enough to chat and seemed happy to answer questions about when and where they’d come from, which fires they’d been on, etc. Many of them were from southern California and had been here all week working 24 hour shifts.
Other looked quite weary and seemed more anxious to get settled.
Some were hanging out in groups, enjoying the fresh air of the redwoods, a welcome break from the toxic smoky air they’d been breathing.
Lucky for us a couple of battalion chiefs, the ones who lead the strike teams of 5 trucks that go out together, decided to have some fun with us artists and had us try on the fire jacket they wear with its thick layer of insulation and fire retardant shell. Where’s the air conditioner? I asked, knowing that sometimes they’re fighting fires in 120 degree heat. The answer “that’s when you take off the jacket and your sweat cools you“.
Tony came over to us a while after I sketched him lounging in his truck. He was happy to tell his story, which turned into many stories! A 75 year old volunteer firefighter from Quincy, CA he was on his second consecutive fire in other parts of California and wondering if he might be getting too old for this!! especially having gone 60 hours without sleep when they first came. Pushing the body beyond the limits that most of us could tolerate seemed to be standard for these guys.
We took every opportunity we could to voice our gratitude for their service and they always just turned it around to say how grateful they were to all the people of our community who were so full of spirit and good will. Some said they had never seen anything like it in other places.
Later I remembered that night eleven days ago when the Tubbs Fire came roaring over the hills, lighting up the horizon with flames, fueled by 50-70 mph hot winds blowing in our direction, and I knew that our fate was in the hands of Nature and the firefighters who would jump in their trucks and head this way from as far away as Alaska. Yup! This is one grateful community.