We Do It To Protect This

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For all that’s been lost in the Wine Country fires, so much has been saved. And Nancy Lecourt knows exactly who to thank for that.

Our little town was surrounded by wild fires last week. Angwin is the home of Pacific Union College, in the hills above the Napa Valley. As we watched the flames in Napa, Calistoga, and Sonoma creeping our way, monitoring nixle alerts and listening to press conferences on KQED, blue skies turned smoky and our windows rattled with the CalFire helicopters scrambling at our little airport. All through the week we wrestled with the questions of when to cancel classes, what kind of face masks to issue, and what to do with the handful of students who had nowhere to go but here.

On Saturday we ate together on the deck of the president’s house, a potluck for students and staff overlooking the Napa Valley on a perfect October day. Across the valley we could see billowing smoke from the Nuns fire, which was trying to come over the ridge from Sonoma. It was weirdly apocalyptic, munching on pumpkin cupcakes while fires raged a few miles away.

One of the students was a senior Emergency Services Management major who had been on the fire lines in Calistoga the day before and would be back the next morning. I asked him what it was like, “out there,” and he told me of the wind and flames, of their assignment to put out anything that crossed Highway 29, of 24-hour shifts.

“Wow! Twenty-four hours! How do you keep going? You must run on adrenalin!”


“No,” he answered. “We keep going because we know that if we don’t do our jobs, people will lose their homes, people will die.” He looked around at the little group, eating peacefully in the shade. “We do it to protect this.”

In the end, those of us who live in Angwin and thousands of our neighbors , were safe, thanks to the courage and commitment of first responders like our student. Not because they were running on adrenalin, but because they knew we were counting on them.

With a Perspective, I’m Nancy Lecourt.

Nancy Lecourt is the Academic Dean at Pacific Union College, in Angwin.