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Firefighters: Above and Beyond

September 28, 1987

Nature has a habit of destroying itself once in a while, leaving it to people to pick up the pieces. As California's forest fires gradually come under control, firefighters from this state and all over the country are going home, their ranks thinned a bit by injury and illness. Most survived with nothing more serious than poison-oak rash, for which Californians can be grateful. But seven firefighters gave their lives trying to spare nature from itself and other people from nature. They died as distinguished, selfless and honorable heroes.

Crews from all over California and the Pacific Northwest contributed to the mammoth effort to arrest the spread of the worst fires in recent history. They were joined in their efforts by firefighters from as far away as the Deep South and New England who risked their lives in a state that they may have never even visited.

It is difficult to overstate the risk and personal sacrifice that these men and women assume when called to harness nature's threatening and often uncontrollable forces. Every individual involved in the effort likely has a tale of personal hardship to tell. When the blazes were at their peak, many firefighters served in 24-hour shifts. They lived in tents set up near each fire. They stood up to such threats as smoke-borne poison oak oil, which inflames the lungs.

Every firefighter took the same risks, but we can't help being impressed by, and particularly indebted to, the ones who left homes and families in other states to serve here. Just as we are impressed that California firefighters are prepared to serve in other states when they are needed. The firefighters who suffered the heat of the flames in California this summer did more than save peoples' lives. They provided them with a model of bravery and selflessness.

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