Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Last year around this time, I wrote about a longtime friend who flew for the California Fire Service. We lost him yesterday when his tanker (81) crashed in a canyon in Yosemite while he was laying fire retardant and fighting a fire near the entrance to the park.  Craig and Dave were looking forward to their planned golf in November after they both hoped the 'fire season' would be over.

Craig never stopped flying over the past, nearly 40 years. First in the Navy, then the Reserves and then the last 13 years for Cal Fire. Just last year he put out a fire in Copperopolis, the town next to ours up at the lake - just blocks away from where our friends own homes. Over the course of 13 years, he has helped save many communities and thousands of acres of beautiful wild land. Just this year alone, it's mind boggling to think of how many fires he has flown on!

He was always upbeat and quite a guy.  He and Sally just celebrated their 39th Anniversary and his first granchild is due in 2 months. He was quite a guy.
Today the Governor called it "The ultimate sacrifice".

ABC News:

And my blog from last September:

Tanker 81

   When Dave and I were newlyweds and he was assigned as an NFO (navigational flight officer) in the Navy, there was no other pilot he would rather fly with than Craig.  We all had babies and social lives intertwined with one another.  Well, oddly enough, Craig is now flying tanker 81 for the state of California and fighting wild fires that threaten the territory near our house at the lake.  In the off-season he teaches BioChemistry at one of the University of California universities. 
So... the Professor flies dangerous fire missions in his off time. Who would ever know!  

Ironically, he was working the famous Rim Fire, only an hour from our house, laying retardant on the flames.

                                                                        Tanker 81.  Craig's plane. There he is!

Craig flies over our house regularly and tells us whether our cars are there or not. 

Ever since the "Rim Fire" was broadcast on TV for the past few weeks, we've heard from friends from all over the country, asking how we are and whether the house at the lake is in danger and we really appreciate everyone's concern.  Thankfully, all is well with us but we have seen firsthand the power and ferocity of these wildland fires and it is scary.  Within the first week after the Rim Fire broke out, we were at the lake with Drew and Giovanna and her parents.  Luckily, the smoke only came in one morning for a couple of hours and then the breezes blew it out.  So we thought we were home free from then on.  
Well... over Labor Day we were expecting to be at the lake with Kevin and his wife Lauren so Dave and I headed up first and this is what we found when drove through the gate:

It was definitely not the place to be.  The fire by this time had spread into Yosemite National Park which is about an hour drive from our place. 
We turned around and went home.

Craig works for "Cal Fire" - the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection- which is responsible for protecting over 31 MILLION acres of wildlands. Wow. Fortunately for us, we have a major Cal Fire Base at the end of our road.  We sometimes hear them doing drills and, frankly, it is reassuring.

The devastating Rim Fire started on August 17th and it has been the third largest wildfire in California's history, burning about 400 square miles.  It's the biggest wildfire on record in the Sierra Nevada. As of September 12th it was only 80% contained.  They estimate it will be fully contained by September 20 - a week from now! The fire was caused by a hunter's illegal fire that went out of control and is named for its proximity to the Rim of the World vista point in the Stanislaus National Forest.  The Rim Fire now has it's own Wikipedia page!