I like to consider myself both an optimist and a humanist, one of those people who believes that all will be right in the end and that people are inherently good. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe these things, because we’re living in troubling times. My beliefs in optimism and humanism have been tarnished by the seemingly unending prevalence of school shootings and political scandals and the vapidity of the American entertainment industry. Priorities are backwards. Violence is everywhere. We’re consuming instead of giving. Where’s the hope?
But every once in awhile, a story comes along that renews my belief in humanity.
Today, it’s the story of what’s happening in Arizona in response to the Yarnell Hill fire.
First, a confession. Until yesterday morning, I hadn’t really been aware as to what was happening in Yarnell. Sure, I’d heard of what was going on. I knew that 19 firefighters had lost their lives fighting this blaze and that hundreds of residents had been evacuated. I was generally informed, but I wasn’t aware.
I don’t watch the news – or much TV for that matter as there’s only one TV with cable in my house. I don’t own a laptop at the moment and I don’t actively look up news articles online. I hear about most things through social media, as sad as that sounds. Call it ignorance. Call it self preservation. Call it laziness. Call it whatever you want to, but it’s my reality.
Yesterday morning, I was asked to write a news story for work about the Yarnell Hill fire in order to give associates the opportunity to donate toward the cause. I knew it would be an exhausting day. I would need to read about tragedy and death and families trying desperately to pick up the pieces of their lives that were whole before June 30.
At first, that is what my research uncovered. The Yarnell Hill wildfire started with a lightening strike on June 28 and quickly grew into a terror due to the crazy heat of the summer and lots of dry bushes and brush that served as kindling. As the fire spread, approximately 475 Yarnell residents were evacuated from their homes. It was time for Yarnell to send in the big guns, the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team of elite firemen who would undoubtedly be able to stop the blaze. Sadly, that isn’t what happened. Instead, a sudden change of the wind changed the course of the fire and all 19 Hotshots who had been sent into the fire died. All 19 of them.
The fire continued to burn 8,300 acres in six days before it was contained, an effort that took over 450 people, including eight fire crews and 15 fire engines. The damage is brutal. Early reports estimate about 114 homes and other structures were compromised by the fire. Yarnell residents were allowed to go home yesterday, but many of them were unsure of what they’d find. I heard today that a number of them didn’t have insurance for their homes.
I devoured this news yesterday, trying to gets the facts straight, grabbing for tissues periodically and fighting the stinging behind my eyes.
And then, the news reporting changed significantly.
I started reading about community and donations and memorials and all the good work people are doing in response to this tragedy. I read about Wickenburg Community Center donating clothes, Elks Lodge donating free meals, churches distributing resources, and residents leaving notes at shelters offering those displaced everything under the sun to assuage their loss and sadness.
I read about the people who lined the streets of Phoenix, my city, as the bodies of the 19 fallen Hotshots left the medical examiner’s offices and traveled back to Prescott, back to their homes. For Phoenix residents, the fallen 19 were probably strangers and yet the sense of loss and community was so strong, they stood outside in the summer heat holding signs and purple ribbons and American flags to usher those lost to their final resting places.
I read about the new significance of Independence Day, how the holiday made people more grateful and humble.
And I started to feel better. Because people care. People are acting. People are making a difference in the lives of those who’ve faced a nightmare. And that’s kind and beautiful and necessary.
Those who lost their loved ones and their homes in the Yarnell Hill fire – they’ll never be the same again. But because of people who care about their plight, their hearts and their homes will start to be mended. And that’s something. That’s humanity.
Make Yarnell your community. There are so many ways to help and to donate. Keep me believing in optimism and humanism.
If you’re aware of other efforts and ways to contribute, please leave a comment for other readers.
Photo licensing info – dagnyg