Not all is well in the state of California. On Friday, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency across the entire Golden State, thanks to the combination of its perilously dry conditions (brought on by the worst drought on record) and raging wildfires. He specifically said that the state had effectively been turned "into a tinderbox," and that's no joke. One such fire, in Northern California's Modoc National Forest, caused a tragic loss of life this week: Dave Ruhl, a heroic firefighter, gave his life fighting the blaze.
It seems like a good time to stop and recognize Ruhl's death, because it was in every sense a tragedy, and a function of his selflessness — he wasn't even from California, according to CNN.
Rather, the 38-year-old lived in South Dakota, and was only in California fighting the fire because he'd accepted a voluntary assignment. In other words, he risked his own life to protect people living more than a thousand miles away. According to his hometown Rapid City Journal, he wasn't the only Black Hills National Forest firefighter to head to California; there are about ten more working in the state at present, although they occasionally change in and out.
As detailed by the Rapid City Journal, former Black Hills National Forest supervisor Craig Bobzien remembered Ruhl, with a heavy heart.
You can imagine, that it’s a great sense of loss. Whenever you have a fellow firefighter go down there’s always a sense of loss. When you know his family, when you know him as a person... He touched so many people in a positive way, people are obviously grieving over his loss. We are all grieving ... words are just are hard to describe that sense of loss.
Ruhl's body was discovered on Friday morning. He died while fighting the so-called "Frog Fire," which has reportedly engulfed hundreds of acres since it came to life on Thursday. Ruhl's job was to scout out the area and formulate a plan for halting the blaze, but according to CBS local affiliate KPIX, the wind-aided flames unexpectedly surrounded him while he was driving, and he was unable to escape.
Gov. Brown issued a statement following the news of Ruhl's death, expressing his condolences and recognizing Ruhl's heroism in helping out California with its wildfire crisis.
Anne and I were saddened to learn of the tragic death of U.S. Forest Service Firefighter Dave Ruhl, who left his home state to help protect one of California’s majestic forests. Firefighter Ruhl will be remembered for his service and bravery and we extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues with the U.S. Forest Service.
Ruhl reportedly leaves behind a family in South Dakota: his wife Erin, and their two children.