Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Local Volunteer Recounts Fighting the Hopkins Fire: ‘I Felt Like I Was Looking at an Inferno’


Welcome to our letters to the editor/opinion section. To submit yours for consideration, please send to matthewplafever@gmail.com. Please consider including an image to be used–either a photograph of you or something applicable to the letter. However, an image is not necessary for publication.

Remember opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of MendoFever nor have we checked the letters for accuracy.

Vegetation flares up as the Hopkins Fire works eastward up the ridge towards Lake Mendocino [Picture by Matt LaFever]

I have had a long relationship with fire. In the beginning, it frightened me. Traumatized me enough that I had to go to therapy for PTSD. I have had EMDR therapy and learned to manage that stress.

Volunteering and getting training through the fire department has helped immensely.

It is still not easy. Just in the past few days I have experienced a lot.

While I was helping defend people’s homes, we were burned over. The fire came upon us so quickly and intensely that I saw a flame ball engulf a two story house and our engine. I ran in and crouched down to defend both as long as I could. I had to fall back to a safe spot. For a moment I felt like I was looking at an inferno like the sun and everything around it went black.

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Surprisingly, both our engine and the house survived but they both will need some repairs.

After limping our engine to the station, we were approached by a man asking about his house. After he told us the address, we broke the bad news that we had personally seen it burn to the ground.

The next day, I witnessed a woman who was let in behind the blockade to recover the remains of her dog that were recovered and see her house that was completely destroyed. Not long after, we saw a cat that I was able to capture. He had moderate burns. He is at the vet and will go to his owner soon. His owner also lost her home.

Mow and clean up around your house. Don’t have combustibles nearby. Clean your gutters. No clutter. Have your driveway/address well marked and good access. If you want us to save your house, make it able to be saved. Clear and thin brush 100 feet. This doesn’t mean make it the moon but don’t have a burn pile around it either. Envision a fire engine being able to pull in, drive around and stage. Firefighters laying hose. Do the work before hand because we may only have 5-10 minutes to prepare for your house getting burned over.

-Adam Gaska, Redwood Valley-Calpella Fire Department, Station 62

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  1. Thank you for your bravery, your service, and your willingness to be honest about your own personal emotional struggles in a public forum.

  2. I have trauma from a fire seeing my brother and others in a icu burn unit is the most unbearable pain i have ever had in my life felling so helpless. every day every year every fire brings it back. Day to day I get through I used to see fire fighters fire trucks and have a panic attack break downs i still do I dont know why i think its because they have to see this so often and my pain cant bring my brother back or heal the pain that they have to endure. but the strength and endurance of the fire fighters keeps me pushing through. So Thank You from the bottom of my heart. you can not save everyone every house or animal but you give me hope everyday stay safe You are my heros.

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a reporter for the Average Joe. Journalism has become a craft defined largely by city dwellers on America's coasts. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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