CHOWCHILLA, Calif. — We’ve heard plenty about the Santa Rosa fires that have killed more than a dozen people and destroyed thousands of homes.
We ventured north to this town about 40 miles north of Fresno expecting to perhaps see a hint of trouble farther along the highway. We found something quite different: smoke choking everything here, although not to the tragedy that is unfolding in California’s famed wine country.
We learned upon arrival that an almond processing plant caught fire and firefighters are battling that blaze. Smoke is blanketing region all around Chowchilla. Indeed, we began noticing it in Bakersfield, 100-plus south of here.
Oh, but the Santa Rosa saga is being seen all around us here. We ran into some firefighters as we ate burgers and fries at a local drive-in. I asked if they were “fighting the fire that’s causing all the smoke around us.” Oh, no, a young man told us. He was heading up north to fight the Santa Rosa fire.
“Bless … your … heart,” I responded. “God bless you and be safe out there.” He smiled and said he surely would do that.
And so California is fighting the elements.
Indeed, we are heading toward Grass Valley in the morning. Our RV park has turned into a “fire camp” as firefighters are staging there to battle yet another set of blazes near that picturesque community. We have checked in with our RV camp hosts to ask them if the park would be safe, that it won’t be “overrun by fire sweeping through the place.” She couldn’t assure us of anything like that.
That all said, we’re going there anyway. She did suggest that firefighters are making progress in that particular battle against the flames.
If only the firefighters battling the Santa Rosa fire could offer even a hint of hope that they’ve turned the corner.
It feels considerably more frightening to us as we venture in this part of the country. We have heard about the fire, winced at news of the tragedy.
We aren’t anywhere near the center of the inferno. However, even seeing the outskirts of its effect is chilling to the max.
God bless those men and women who are thrusting themselves into harm’s way.