The family of pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt is grieving for their loss following the shocking Grumman S-2T fire retardant air tanker accident. The horrific event occurred while Hunt was flying over the Dog Rock Fire near Yosemite’s Arch Rock on October 7th. Witnesses state the aircraft inexplicably started rolling, hit the mountainside and exploded. According to the San Jose Mercury News, Hunt was contracted through DynCorp International for his thirteen years of expertise in flying air tankers. Citizens whose properties have been salvaged from wildfire through the valiant efforts of pilots like Hunt are surely sending out their prayers to his survivors.
Anyone who lives in the western United States or follows news reports is well aware of a continuing drought that has severely affected the western Pacific region, specifically the state of California. Numerous dry lightning strikes over the summer wreaked havoc in small communities across rural areas, sparking intense wildfires fueled by extreme conditions and dry vegetation.
To say that Cal Fire, the state wildfire suppression agency, has their hands full is an understatement. As more Californians move into rural and mountainous areas, they take with them valued possessions that a single wildfire can wipe out in minutes. Cal Fire has performed their due diligence in not only fighting these fires (joined by other agencies at the federal and local levels), but they also champion fire prevention through inspection to ensure residents maintain the 100 foot barrier around dwellings. Often keeping these clearances could spell the difference between a fire sweeping through with minimal damage, or total destruction.
As property owners in a rural part of the state, we have seen Cal Fire on the move, watching for lightning-induced fires, inspecting housing subdivisions, and assisting above and beyond their parameters of official duties.
For example, over the Labor Day weekend at Eagle Lake, located in Lassen County, California, an accident occurred on County Road A1. The owner of an elderly wooden powerboat experienced failure of the tie-down strap upon making a turn. As a consequence, the boat leapt off the trailer, and was totaled.
The owner—a local from Susanville—was graciously assisted by occupants of a passing Cal Fire crew based in Chester, California. The firefighters volunteered to load the shattered boat back onto the trailer, and helped the owner jury-rig a tie-down system that would ensure safety while on the road.
As a parallel verse to all this lauding of Cal Fire, I will mention the Fire Fee that the State of California implemented several years ago. Owners of improved properties in designated rural fire zones are assessed a fee of $150 per parcel (unimproved rural lots are exempt from this fee). An allowance of $35 is subtracted from the total fee if the rural property exists within the authority of a fire district.
The tax-deductible fee on our rural property runs $115 per year. Such a fee could pose a strain for some rural residential property owners on fixed incomes, such as SDI or SSI. Certainly purchasing wild-land fire insurance is exponentially more expensive than the fire fee (our policy costs $1,200 per year).
The greatest issue in rural counties is an attitude I can only describe as paradoxical. In essence, there’s a majority of individuals who despise paying taxes, and yet, expect to receive government assistance for “free.” This is what’s known as entitlement. The uproar against the Fire Fee is a classic example of folks who expect something for nothing.
So, it was to my great distress when I happened across a sign posted high in a tree on private property owned by Sierra Pacific Industries. The sign read, “CALFIRE EMPIRE WANTS YOUR PAYCHECK”
Briefly, SPI is a forest products company, and great stewards of their lands. How many of us live in a house, where absolutely none of the material generated to build it comes from trees? How many of us own physical books, or read a physical newspaper, or for God’s sake, wipe our butts on toilet paper? Harvesting trees is one of the unavoidable aspects of human industry. And SPI is one cog in a very enormous wheel of forest management, harvest and renewal.
As a writer I respect the free speech of others. I do know that the First Amendment is limited when speech incites violence, riots and other acts civil disobedience. In other words, I can say, something to the effect that “I think ice cream is bad for the human body.” However, I am not within my First Amendment rights when I try to stir up the masses to go the next step of actually destroying cartons of ice cream. Only then is my speech severely limited (one historical leader of American Indian Movement, John Trudell, was an excellent purveyor of free speech, without actually violating the tenets of the First Amendment).
I admit that after photographing the tree and the sign—including SPI’s own posting against trespassers—I ruminated for almost thirty days. And then, I shot off an email to SPI:
From: karen kennedy samoranos
Subject: Signage on SPI property
Date: Sep 26, 2014 2:44 PM
Just thought you might be interested in a sign nailed high in a lodgepole pine on Sierra Pacific Industries’ property near Susanville, CA. The area in question in the Piute Creek drainage, northeast of county road A1, at the foot of Roop Mountain, between the USFS offices, and the Lake Forest Estates subdivision. Both signs are readily visible on the right side of A1 as traffic heads toward Eagle Lake.
This particular sign is posted just above an SPI sign warning of no trespass (see first photo). The actual sign in question is nailed to a tree (see second photo). Close-up (photo number three) reveals an interesting political view of Cal Fire.
I would hope that SPI is not responsible for this sign, as the irony is self-explanatory.
Please note that the sign was posted as of September 2, 2014. I cannot confirm if the sign is still present on SPI property. I find the sign distressing evidence of a rather loosely bolted mentality in tinder-dry fire country. If this is how SPI wishes to be aligned, that’s a First Amendment prerogative. After all, as a writer, I do respect free speech.
Karen K Samoranos
SPI’s response was received shortly after my email:
From: mark lathrop spi
To: “‘firstname.lastname@example.org'” <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Signage on SPI property
Date: Sep 26, 2014 3:38 PM
Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I can assure you the CDF sign is not something from SPI. We will have someone remove it.
Community Relations Manager
Sierra Pacific Industries
In conclusion, California’s tax base, mandated Fire Fee, and the services generously rendered by agencies such as Cal Fire should never be taken for granted. But when it comes to the valiant efforts of pilots like Hunt, or the young men from the Chester station who assisted with a junk-heap wooden boat with painted-over dry rot, signs like the one on SPI land tend to be unreasonably cruel. The militant attitudes of a few nutcases sometimes can pervade the common sense of the majority.
I am adamant about free speech, but I question the motives of the handful who wish to stir up anger against those who serve and protect not only our financial interests and lives, but our beloved pets and precious wedding photos and the very sanctuaries in which we live.