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Living in the rainforest, we are unused to worrying about fire. Our recent spate of dry weather called fire danger to mind, as we realize the tinderbox possibilities of a firework gone wrong shooting into the dry woods next to our houses.
But rainforest or desert, large city or isolated island, we know what it is to lose those whose life’s work is to protect us.
It was with shock that we learned of the Sunday deaths of 19 firefighters from the Prescott, Ariz., fire department — an elite crew trapped by a wildfire that began with a lightning strike Friday. They had gone, as firefighters do, toward the danger. As The Associated Press report put it: “Hot shot crews are elite firefighters who often hike for miles into the wilderness with chain saws and backpacks filled with heavy gear to build lines of protection between people and fires. They remove brush, trees and anything that might burn in the direction of homes and cities.”
Lines of protection between people and fires: They stand between us and what can harm us.
Near Yarnell, Ariz., Sunday night, they perished, “19 of the finest people you’ll ever meet,” according to Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo.
Details of the fire and its deadly result will come out as an investigation reveals how this happened. But we know how it happened. As Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said, we already know it in our hearts: Fighting fires is dangerous.
Alaskans know, as Arizonans do, that our terrible and beautiful geography sometimes can spawn tragedy of breathtaking proportions. Such was Arizona’s lot on Sunday, when this incomprehensible natural occurrence took those 19 firefighters. We can say only to our brothers and sisters in Arizona that our hearts break for them; we understand as best anyone on the outside can understand. We weep for them, and with their families and friends.
To our own firefighters and all emergency responders, we say now what we don’t say often enough, in the absence of tragedy: Thank you for protecting us every day. Thank you for running toward the danger. May it never meet you head-on.