Forest Service Personnel Are Real Heroes

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Wednesday morning, the Payson Ranger District hosted a special awards program to present plaques of gratitude to Payson media for assistance during the Willow and other wildfires in 2004.

The plaques read: "The Willow Fire scorched 119,500 acres on the Tonto National Forest. The Horse, Webber, Ponderosa and 93 other wildfires combined to char another 3,376 acres on the Payson Ranger District. Your mutual aid and commitment to public safety is best reflected in the final statistics: Human lives lost - 0; Homes lost -0; Businesses lost - 0. When Americans care, great things happen. Many thanks."

While it's rewarding to receive such accolades, in this instance the media played only a minor role in the final analysis.

Thanks should really go to the brave men and women who fought the Willow Fire and all of the wildfires that each year threaten the lives and livelihoods of Rim country residents.

Take a look at these numbers:

For the Willow Fire alone, a total of 951 personnel battled the inferno that several times threatened the evacuation of Rim country communities. Those crews fought for three weeks in grueling hot temperatures on extremely rough terrain. They brought in 38 engines, six dozers and 13 water tenders, and were aided by helicopters and air tankers.

Our job is to keep people informed, and we appreciate the fact that the extra hours we put in doing so were recognized.

But the real heroes were the men and women on the front line -- the firefighters who faced down and turned back a menacing inferno that came within two miles of our community.

In the heat of battle, Jeff Whitney, incident commander for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team, put it this way:

"When the fire comes at us and we need to stand, we will."

It did. They did. The rest is history.

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