The Big Oak Flat Entrance to Yosemite National Park is 28 miles west of Groveland on Highway 120.
About half way there we spot a pullout and stop to take a look at what we think is a scenic view. I take pictures.
Then I notice a gravel path leading to a memorial marker decorated with flowers and I soon learn that this is no scenic view, but a site of bravery and tragedy that took place right here 12 years ago. Eva Marie would have almost been 37 years-old today. Instead she died at just shy of 25 years-young.
On September 12, 2004 a helitack (see definition below) crew responded to a wildland fire in the drainage path of the Tuolumne River which is surrounded by steep slopes with inclines of between 80 to 120%. (cdc.gov)
A helitack refers to helicopter-delivered fire rescues that use helicopters to gain early control of fires in areas where ground crews would have a difficult time accessing quickly. (en.m.wikipedia.org)
In an attempt to establish an anchor point at the river, Helitack 404 began constructing a downhill handling from a forest river road.
A wind shift, however, caused the fire to spread uphill into the firefighters. Four crew members ran downhill toward the river and 2 others rushed uphill. Only 1 firefighter made it safely up to the road. The other, Eva Marie Schicke was overcome by smoke inhalation and died at the scene. (cdc.gov)
I pay my respects and stand here in gratitude of Eva Marie’s service. I send my love to her family as I am reminded of a co-worker’s daughter who lost her life fighting a house fire in Cincinnati, OH.
I get it now…
Growing up in Ohio, forest fires weren’t a common occurrence but Smokey Bear taught us well.
Until traveling and living out West, I didn’t think much about wild fires except for understanding that natural ones were nature’s way of cleansing the forest. Then I saw the dry, vulnerable, and thirsty landscape.
Oregon, so rainy in winter and rainless in summer, has strictly enforced burn laws. When Jeff and I visited Crater Lake this past August we could not travel the full circuitous route because of a wildfire. I didn’t take it seriously until I saw the firefighters suited up and carrying hatchets and hoses. After we left I found out that the hotel had to be evacuated. We were just there!
So, I get it now. Wildfires are good and bad. The aftermath is good and bad. And it is up to us to be good stewards of our earth. Mother Nature doesn’t need our carelessness. But fire is a dangerous and serious business. It’s awful when we lose animals and natural resources. It’s devastating when we lose homes and livelihoods. It’s a meaningless tragedy when we lose lives.