Sometimes our Quick Response Team deploys to disaster. Sometimes disaster deploys to us. We recently encountered two different destructive wildfires, the Big Sur wildfire on the mid-California coast, and the Clayton Fire in Lower Lake, California. They say that California has two seasons—landslide season and fire season. My wife Elaine and I encountered fire season on our recent trip there. We drove through the smoke-filled Big Sur fire area on our way to attend the Campus Safety West Conference in Long Beach, and spent time talking with Mercedes, a U.S. Forest Service firefighter, who briefed us on the status of this long-burning fire (one firefighting bulldozer operator was killed when his dozer turned over in the extraordinarily steep hills). We prayed with Mercedes for the safety of the firefighters before moving on to our conference.
At the campus safety conference, we spent time talking with the attendees, many of whom were campus safety administrators. I want to take this opportunity to thank Northern Virginia Community College Police Chief Dan Dusseau and his lieutenant, John Weinstein, for spending a significant amount of time with me at the conference offering counsel and encouragement in our Quick Response Team efforts. Elaine and I made many good contacts at the conference, including receiving an invitation to speak at the upcoming WFX Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, on September 21-22.
On Sunday, August 14, Elaine and I were traveling through Lake County, California, after visiting my sister and brother-in-law’s church there. As we approached the little town of Lower Lake, we saw a large amount of white smoke ahead of us, indicative of a wildfire. I then saw black smoke billowing up at the leading edge of the fire, indicative that the fire was moving into the town and burning structures there. The temperature was approaching 100 degrees, and a hot wind was blowing. “Not good,” I told Elaine as we came into the edge of town. There, a nightmare awaited us. People were streaming out of the town. California Highway Patrol officers and County Sheriff’s deputies were trying desperately to direct traffic and civilians out of the area, while at the same time allowing dozens of responding fire trucks—lights on and sirens blaring—and hundreds of firefighters in. At the main intersection of Highway 29 and Highway 53, I saw California Highway Patrol officers trying to direct both cars and frantic pedestrians, and so I assisted especially with the pedestrians—some hysterical about homes (and pets especially) in the fire’s path. We did our best to keep these frantic people out of danger. I prayed with one man who told me that one of his dogs had died the previous year, and now he was worried that his other dog was going to burn to death at his house. I told him that as hard as it was, he couldn’t go into the fire zone because his own life would be in danger. We gave it to the Lord in prayer and he thanked me.
I saw that the fire was circling around toward the general direction we were parked (I had told Elaine to stay in our rented vehicle), and so I called my sister and brother-in-law, who were in the area, and drove Elaine out to them. I then drove back and continued to assist. In the meantime, fire planes buzzed overhead, dropping orange fire retardant on the flames, which were consuming structures in the town. A Lake County Sheriff’s chaplain drove up and told me they had it covered (doubtful, I thought, but it wasn’t my place to argue). About that time I saw a tree explode in flames about a hundred yards away, and I realized that the fire planes would probably do a retardant drop right on top of me if I didn’t move. I figured now was a good time to call it a day before I became part of the problem rather than part of the solution. (I confess I was also thinking about the $500 deductible coverage on my rental car.) I left.
Elaine and I returned to the town two days later, and visited with some of the officers who were still on scene (we gave one of our Peace Officer Ministries law enforcement edition Bibles to one of them). Sure enough, the spot where I had parked my car was covered in orange retardant that had been dropped by a fire plane shortly after I had left two days earlier.
Please pray for the fire victims and those who serve and protect them, and thanks for your support and encouragement!