Three trips in as many days to the fire-ravaged northeastern area of the Sixth Congressional District last week left me with an indelible memory of more than just the horrific wildfires burning there.
I shall keep in my memories forever the courage and goodness of those Arizonans so perfectly described by President Bush during his visit there as "a brave and great people."
In the shadows of the billowing smoke that hangs over your part of Arizona, I have seen manifest evidence of what the French philosopher de Tocqueville said about America nearly 200 years ago: "America is great, because America is good."
He was referring to that unique sense of community and charity that is associated so closely with the American people. He could just as well have been speaking of the people of northeastern Arizona.
I had the privilege of meeting with so many people uprooted from their homes, many who sadly now have no place to return.
I talked with Red Cross volunteers, firefighters, cooks, medical personnel, and just plain folks. Every one of them every one of you has sacrificed so much in your neighbor's time of need, are heroes.
Special recognition needs to go to all the firefighters who have heroically battled this blaze. There aren't enough words to express gratitude for their Herculean efforts.
From Eagar to Payson, I saw again the goodness of Arizonans who care about their communities and love their neighbors.
In every community, there are people who have opened their homes to complete strangers who otherwise would be on the street.
Moms and grandmoms have fired up their kitchens to feed people they will never meet just because it was the right thing to do and a way to help someone get through another day.
Corrals and fairgrounds have been opened so livestock have a safe place to stay. Farmers across the state sent in tons of feed for livestock. You even set up emergency shelters for all the pets that are homeless, too.
Local officials worked around the clock, providing the leadership and local know-how that were invaluable contributions to the coordinated effort to cope with a disaster both unimaginable and unprecedented.
Many of the people who were there volunteering their time are from other parts of the country. A few weeks ago, they didn't know Show Low from the Show-Me state, but they do know the meaning of service before self. They are to be commended for leaving their friends and loved ones from Los Angeles to New York to answer the call in northeastern Arizona.
In every shelter that has been used to house evacuees, the people of the local communities have responded with an outpouring of donations stacked as high as cordwood: clothes, blankets, toys for kids, toiletries and other necessities that we often take for granted. But we can never take for granted the spirit of love, compassion and giving that has permeated all the communities affected by this disaster.
In the face of the most vicious wildfire in our history, you stood firm, rallied the best instincts and energies within you, and came together with an unwavering determination to overcome this catastrophic challenge.
Ordinary people still do extraordinary things. The Rodeo-Chediski Fire is extraordinary in its power and scope, but it's no match for the character of the people who've stared down this monster and are determined not to let it defeat them.
Keep up your great good work, northeastern Arizona. You've earned the admiration of the world. And you make us proud to be your neighbor and your friend.