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Kindness Lifts Weary Crews

Young and old alike in Ventura County bring food and stop by to thank firefighters resting at a command post in Moorpark.

October 28, 2003|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

Everywhere, there were acts of kindness and expressions of gratitude for firefighters who came from across the state to battle the wildfires engulfing Ventura County.

One family delivered 250 flats of fresh strawberries to weary firefighters resting in the fire command post at Arroyo Vista Community Park in Moorpark.

A young mother walked her two sons up to resting firefighters to say thank you.

Anonymous donors baked cookies and brownies and served coffee and cold sodas to firefighters working in their neighborhoods.

And the feeling was mutual, said firefighters buoyed by the gestures when they returned ashen and tired after enduring the fierce winds and searing heat of raging fires in Simi Valley, Piru and Santa Paula.

"People would come by and give us water, cookies, coffee," said Firefighter Glenn Laub of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. He worked the canyons north of Moorpark and Simi Valley over the weekend.

As Laub rested in a parking lot in Moorpark with other firefighters, Amber Indra walked up to one of the trucks with her sons, Liam, 4, and Caleb, 2.

"I just wanted to say thanks," the Moorpark woman said. "I think what they've done is huge. What more could they do, especially when there's about six fires going on at the same time? They've been fantastic, especially with such depleted resources."

Late in the afternoon, Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger paid a visit to the command post to show his support and gratitude to the firefighters battling wildfires throughout the state. He shook hands and exchanged greetings with crews who had just returned from the fire line.

"I just want them to know what great heroes they are," said Schwarzenegger, who promised to seek federal aid to help California recover from the devastation. "They say this is the most devastating fire in the last decade. I want ... to make sure federal money is available, so people can rebuild their homes and businesses and get their lives back together."

Schwarzenegger shook hands with Ventura County Firefighter Troy Swickard and thanked him for the job he was doing. He also hopped aboard a firetruck while firefighters showed off the engine's equipment.

"Do they inspire you?" Schwarzenegger said to a teenage boy who had come to the park to see the newly elected governor. "They inspire me, too. These are the toughest guys around. Anyone who would risk their life to save others' lives is a true hero."

L.A. County Firefighter Dean McGuire said it was tough working the line without air support or hand crews to back them up over the weekend. His Santa Clarita Valley-based strike team fended off flames that had moved perilously close to houses in Simi Valley. They slept Sunday night for the first time after working more than 24 hours.

"There were places where the fire was very intense," he said. "Probably the most frustrating thing was we had no ground and cutting crews and no air wings to help us out with water drops."

But if anyone appreciated their hard work -- besides those whose homes were saved -- it was Simi Valley Mayor Bill Davis, who said the firefighters' work was "better than fabulous."

"These guys would get to the back of a house and stay there until the fire moved away," Davis said. "They were not going to let a structure burn in this city. It's wonderful. They're doing such a fabulous job out here."

John Husted and his wife, Monica, agreed. They loaded up their kids -- Cecilia, 8, and Joey, 3 -- and 250 flats of strawberries and headed for the command post in Moorpark.

Husted, a service manager for John Deere, had asked some of his customers to donate the fruit. He also planned to bring fresh vegetables.

"They need to eat and stay healthy, so they can keep going until the fire's out," Husted said. "They're doing a great job, absolutely fantastic. There was so little time and so much fire."

Monica Husted said, "They've been running around from Point A to Point B with the fire moving so quickly. We just wanted to help."

Brian Heath, a member of a ground crew from the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, had just returned from the Simi Valley fire Monday morning, where crews tried to keep the flames from spreading north of the Ronald Reagan Freeway.

He was disappointed when it crossed the freeway, he said, but he smiled when he was told residents were grateful firefighters had saved their homes.

"This group's put a lot of work into it," Heath said over a plate of crisp bacon and scrambled eggs. "It was five hours of cutting and clearing and setting backfires to make sure the fire doesn't get around the houses."

But individuals were not the only ones expressing their thanks. Stores and restaurants, including Costco, Trader Joe's, California Pizza Kitchen and Marie Callender's, also pitched in, said Craig Carman, a volunteer coordinator with the American Red Cross, who worked at the command post Monday.

"Neighbors have been bringing cookies, donating pizza, even a father and son showed up here wanting to help," Carman said. "There's an outpouring of people who want to help."

True, said Joe Luna, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department. "There's a lot of volunteering that's going on behind the scenes."

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