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Fire in the Wind, Heroes in the City

It is raining this morning, May 6, over greater Los Angeles. It began tapping at our rooftop shortly after midnight and was still coming down as night blossomed into a gray and gloomy day.

I felt like cheering.

The rain, with its accompanying low temperatures and high humidity, meant that a fire that had burned through almost 30,000 acres of brush and timber in the mountains 40 miles west of the city had been beaten.

Courtesy Henna Bee Flickr Photostream

We had come through another of Southern California's major calamities, and once more we had seen the strength and spirit of the people-civilians as well as first-responders-face up to its awesome wind-driven flames and billows of smoke because, well, we care a lot about each other.

And last week proved it again.

While almost 2,000 fire personnel battled the blaze, neighbors pitched in to help each other, displaying the same kind of tenacity and courage manifested by Bostonians when bombs exploded in their city nearly a month ago. We are one.

I watched on TV, heard on the radio, and read in newspapers about acts of heroism and humanity in the L.A fire by those who climbed on rooftops with garden hoses to help save someone else's house while they were away on vacation.

Calming and rescuing domestic animals-horses as well as dogs and cats-became a major activity in the disaster, as it always is in pet-loving L.A. Elderly neighbors were tended by driving them out of the fire zones when evacuation was ordered if they had no wheels to get away. Homes outside the fire area were opened to those who had fled the flames.

Though still an active journalist, at 83, I don't cover fires anymore. But in the 40 years we have lived in the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu, I have seen at least a dozen fires roar through the chaparral and I have been witness to neighbors helping neighbors bear the long nights of flame.

Why risk our own lives to do so? Because we share a moral destiny with other humans. Compassion stirs the mutual goodness in us. Never was this better said than at a wild fire I covered years ago.

Driving home after a long day on the job, I saw a middle-aged couple across the freeway standing alongside their parked car watching flames as high as heaven lick at the dark clouds. The woman was crying. I stopped to see if I could help and asked if they had lost their home to the flames. The man said, "No."  I asked, "Then why is she crying?

He replied, "She's just crying for everyone."

I guess that in major disasters, we all do. It's who we are.


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