Konocti Camp

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Among the astoundingly brave men and women who saved property and lives from the Wine Country fires is one group that is intentionally shielded from accolades. But Andrew Lewis has this tribute to their heroism.

The call came sometime around one a.m. Three crews from Konocti Camp were roused from their sleep and dispatched over the mountain toward Santa Rosa.

What they encountered defied belief and imagination. A firestorm raged down the slope, engulfing entire neighborhoods. Although these particular men and women were trained to defend wild lands, they now found themselves defending homes. That night they hauled chainsaws, equipment and hoses. They dug lines out along Mark West Road and in the Fountaingrove neighborhood working to save everything they could. They fought house by house as hurricane force winds blew over them, jumping the freeway, forcing them to abandon firebreaks to establish new ones to defend lives and property.

The crews worked 24 to 72 hours straight. When they returned to base camp, they were exhausted. But there was something else. They were dead quiet. Some would say that the fireball was unlike anything they’d ever seen. They hoped never in their lives to see it again.

Unlike the CalFire crews wearing yellow protective clothing, these fire fighters wore orange. They were inmates in the California Department of Corrections, serving sentences for possession or trafficking or theft.


A veil separates these men from the rest of the world. As inmates in the correctional system, these fire fighting professionals are not allowed to socialize with other responders. They’re not permitted to communicate with the public. They can neither give nor receive gifts. For many of those whose homes and property they saved, they will remain forever anonymous.

Tragedy can bring communities together. But the true measure of community may not be our connection to those with whom we’re already familiar. It may be in recognizing our bond with those from whom we may have previously felt separate.

With a Perspective, this is Andrew Lewis.

Andrew Lewis works with at-risk youth while completing an intergenerational memoir.