By Greg Lee

The evening of September 8, 2020 started out fairly routine here in the mountains of Northern California. We even checked the status of the wildfires in our area by visiting the local Fire Chief at the Station.

The fire was miles away and three crews were on it, so we figured there wasn’t much chance of it reaching my location anytime soon. So, we went home, made dinner, and turned in early when the sun set at 8:30 p.m.

At 10:30 p.m. what sounded like a jet aircraft making low flybys disrupted my light sleep. I went outside to check things out. There were no aircraft, but the winds were whipping up. Soon I heard the sound of loud explosions.

I’m not a stranger to the sounds of exploding propane tanks, vehicle gas tanks, and power transformers. I quickly jumped on my motorcycle and did a local recon. Everything seemed fine.

The only fire I could see was miles away and not an immediate threat.

But I didn’t know that officials were igniting back fires in our community. I’m not sure why they would light fires in high winds, and naturally, they soon got out of control. And then a soldier’s nightmare became reality. We were flanked by a wall of flames which was in effect, friendly fire, and the fire was racing through the crowns of the trees moving very fast.

I quickly gathered my dogs, computer, and firearms. I loaded my truck and practically drove through flames to a neighbor’s place to offer some assistance. I spent a few minutes there helping load up. As we drove down the mountain with the flames in hot pursuit, we were lucky not to have the road blocked by falling trees or power lines.

When disaster hits quickly, government agencies are ill equipped or prepared for an immediate response. In the first few hours neighbors were helping neighbors in our makeshift encampment in a large parking lot in town.

Churches, rescue missions, and the Salvation Army were the first to respond with water, food, gasoline cards, and clothing.

Eventually, government agencies set up a resource center for the victims to use. Most of the agencies were there, but getting that assistance can be a long and time consuming process.

In many cases it can take weeks because housing and hotel rooms are hard to find. The current coronavirus pandemic also made for an extra challenge in this situation.

There exists a huge void in the assistance process. How does a victim get needed help in the space between the major aid providers and the immediate need?

I learned that one of the greatest resources available is from Veteran Service Organizations. When the Jewish War Veterans became aware of my dilemma, they were the first to respond and provide aid.

JWV has a dedicated Disaster Relief Program. They immediately approved my request for assistance and provided me with much needed funding for immediate needs. I am so grateful for the generosity and commitment my VSO has demonstrated.

My local Post 603 was also instrumental in providing aid. The members of the Post created a special fund, and I cannot begin to express how much it helped.

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Jewish War Veterans at all levels, my tragedy has been significantly mitigated. I am forever appreciative to my comrades in arms for their unwavering support and actions to facilitate my challenges during these trying conditions.

When spring comes in a few months, thanks to JWV, I am prepared to go back to the mountain and rebuild.

It is truly an honor and a privilege to be associated with the greatest Veterans Service Organization in the nation, the Jewish War Veterans.

Volume 74. Number 4. 2020