Tea for Two - A Mother/Daughter Brew ©2003-2004 Cynthia Brian and Heather Brittany. All Rights Reserved.
Tea for Two
February 2004: Of Hell and HeroesBy Cynthia Brian and Heather Brittany
After three glorious weeks traveling in “bella italia”, our plane landed in San Francisco. The weather in Europe had been cold and rainy, so my husband and I were bundled in warm clothing only to be greeted by 95 degree temperatures in California. The televisions in the terminal broadcast the news that devastating fires were consuming Southern California.
We immediately called our son, Justin, but got his voice mail. Justin is a firefighter, a Captain with the California Department of Forestry. He specializes as a heavy equipment operator. His job is to bulldoze and build roads enabling the engines and fire teams to follow. We dialed Heather’s number. Her news panicked us. San Diego was ablaze. She might be evacuated. The university was closed. The airport was closed. The fire had jumped the freeways. The air was so thick with smoke and ash, it was difficult to breathe. She was volunteering at a rescue center handing out masks, eye drops, food, anything to help the thousands of people whose lives and homes were threatened. “Justin called a couple of days ago to say he was fighting the fires in Los Angeles. He was being transferred to San Diego. I haven’t heard from him again.”
My memory recalled the horrendous Oakland Hills Fire of 1991 where many people had died trying to flee the fiery conflagration. Thousands of houses were destroyed. The fire had burned to the back door of my husband’s childhood home, while annihilating every dwelling in their neighborhood.
Where was Justin? Was he in the thick of the flames? While in Assisi, we had lit candles to pray for the health, welfare, and happiness of our family and friends. Would St. Francis protect him and his fellow firefighters? We prayed again.
Each day the fire raged with a savage fury. It was now being called the worst fire in California history. People were dying and thousands of homes were burnt. The news said that some Northern California fire fighters had been injured, one was dead. I am not the worrying type, but my heart was heavy. After a week, an exhausted Justin telephoned. “I’m alright. This is a bad fire, Mom. I’ve been out of cell reach all week. Nature humbles us.” I asked him about the downed firefighters. “Yes, I know. I was there.”
When Justin finally made it home, he retold his stories with a serene calmness. Although his bulldozer had been surrounded by the towering inferno several times, he and his strike team fought on. “It’s what we do, Mom. We save lives.”
Thank you, Justin. Thank you, firefighters. Thank you, St. Francis, for protecting our heroes while they braved Hades.
Heather’s Tea Bag:
I have always said that San Diego needs a name change to "SUN Diego" because most every day is filled with clear, sunny blue skies. On the morning of October 26, 2003 that all changed.
I awoke to a blanket of yellow black clouds, then as I went outside for my morning walk, an eerie uneasiness feel upon me. I could not breathe this suffocating air. The streets were empty. A stifling silence hung in the darkness. Did I detect the sounds of fire engines or emergency vehicles in the distance?
Hastily I retreated to my apartment to turn on the television in the hope of discovering the reason for this madness. To my horror, every channel broadcast the news of a fire of epic proportions decimating San Diego.
Since school had been canceled I volunteered at one of the relief centers. The shelter was overflowing with victims who had been evacuated or lost their homes. People were injured. Small children clung to their parents in tears and confusion. Yet, amongst this chaos and desperation was the comforting sight of the human heart at work. Administering to the thousands of victims, were hundreds of volunteers, providing food, medical aid, clothing, toys, and miscellaneous assistance.
Throughout the remaining week I volunteered at various sanctuaries. The most rewarding was helping the firefighters. A special relief station for these defenders of our communities had been established. Their spirits were in need of a lift after grueling hours on the fire line. My friends and I baked cookies, decorated cards and created banners. These we posted at the site to show our gratitude and support for these nameless heroes. My spirit was exalted when I saw my brother among them!
Every day Justin risked his own life to protect people he never met. He saw no heroism in doing his duty. He and his associates were my inspiration to continue my personal efforts to help those in need.
Today, the flames have faded, the “Sun” Diego blue skies are eagerly erasing the menacing memory of dread and destruction. Now, however, I not only love the warm sunshine. I love the shining stars who delivered Southern California from yet another calamity. They are not ordinary people, but angels disguised as firefighters, rescue workers, and volunteers. To the “Sun” Diego liberators, my gratitude and admiration.
Leave Room for Honey-
The Southern California Fire of 2003 will be remembered as the worst natural disaster in California history to date. More than 750,000 acres of land had burned, 20 people were killed and over 3,500 homes were destroyed. More than 18,000 fire fighters risked their lives to save people, animals, and property. How easy it is for us to take such courage for granted.
It was pure hell, yet from the inferno rose everyday heroes. Justin was one of them.