CARMEL VALLEY, Calif.—Along the side of Route 68, on the way to Carmel Valley, were many signs showing support for firefighters on Aug. 26.
“Thank you CalFire,” read one. Some were hand-drawn, including pictures of firefighters. Some were professionally printed.
As of Aug. 31, the Carmel Fire and nearby River Fire were both close to 95 percent contained. Firefighters started to withdraw a few days earlier as the fires got under control, and waited to be deployed elsewhere as needed.
“We love the signs,” CalFire spokesperson April Newman told The Epoch Times. “It definitely put smiles on firefighters’ faces.”
‘That’s what keeps us going’
Tony McHale, captain of the Ventura County Fire Department, was onsite during the fight to contain the River Fire and he saw the start of the Carmel Fire on Aug. 18.
“I was looking at a vantage point on Laureles Grade Road and I actually saw this one start. I saw the column of smoke that was coming up from this area,” McHale told The Epoch Times.
“Twenty-five years, I never get used to seeing that kind of destruction, ever. But I do know what keeps firefighters going is that even though losses and the destruction is real and palpable, we also have to consider the value of what’s been saved by our efforts,” McHale said. “That’s what keeps us going.”
This is usually a busy time for firefighters, McHale said, but this year is unprecedented because he’s never seen so many incidents statewide happening at once.
McHale said one of the worst things to work with is poison oak. He pointed to the three-leaf plants on the roadside—”It’s our nemesis,” he said. When it burns, the particles get into the air and it’s toxic to inhale.
He said the firefighters have four priorities when tackling wildfire. The first is human safety, including the crew and residents. The second is structure protection. The third is fire suppression. The fourth is environmental protection. Sometimes they’re working on all at the same time.
He reminds people living in remote, fire-prone areas to have an evacuation plan. This includes knowing what to take, where to meet up with family, and what to do with pets.
Sean Pyorre, a bulldozer operator with Santa Cruz CalFire, was present when the River Fire first broke out on Aug. 16.
For 10 days, he tried to stop the flames with dirt. “I was trying to get to ahead of it and get dirt in between what it was burning and the flames itself,” Pyorre told The Epoch Times.
He said he’s new to this, but “if I hadn’t been in a dozer, I would probably be a lot more scared of the flames coming at me, I wouldn’t feel safe.”
Cooperative weather, including higher humidity last week, helped crews contain the fire.
On Aug. 26, the River Fire was 48 percent contained, so Pyorre was demobbed and was preparing to be deployed to the next assignment.
Carmel Valley Village residents were taking turns every night to prepare meals for firefighters battling the fires.
“They have these great full meals that support them and are high calorie, 24-hour meals, but then they don’t really get hot food. So we took some hot food out to them,” Alondra Klemek, a Carmel Valley resident, told The Epoch Times. Her husband is a firefighter.
She was on her way to help prepare dinner—polenta and pork stew with vegetables—at the kitchen in Jerome’s Carmel Valley Market. The volunteers fed 58 firefighters on Aug. 26.
“It’s already a close community. But I think it’s going to get even closer,” Jerome Viel, owner of the market, told The Epoch Times.
His friend, Michael Jones, who also runs his own catering business, has been helping with delivery and support.
Jones told The Epoch Times: “Jerome did 45 hot, beautiful brisket meals. … They weighed a pound and three-quarters, and they were still steaming hot. I got to go up in the mountains like Santa and hand them out to fire crews that hadn’t eaten a hot meal in a long time.”
He said they’re tough guys, but one was so touched he was speechless—”I could tell he was trying not to cry.”
With reporting by Nancy Han.