Over roughly the past 48 hours, East End Patch editors have worked together to hit Patch readers with a number of articles to inform them about several different angles - from personal profiles, to raw facts, to angles previously not considered - about . But the reality is that wasn't enough time to tell everything coming out of the blaze.
So I’m doing something I rarely do – publishing a first-person account. I prefer to keep myself out of the news, but after all the things I saw on the ground Monday and Tuesday, I kind of feel obligated. It's not often you get to cover an event that big.
After about a couple hours of reporting on the ground Monday afternoon, wind shifted the fire further south of Grumman Boulevard in Calverton, where I had first reported. I retreated to my car (where my battery had nearly died because I left my flashers on) and shortly came upon my first human interest angle of the fire.
Catrina Tedesco was walking out of Swan Lake Golf Course with Irish, a horse she had walked from Annie’s Acres - about a mile away. Tedesco wasn't sure where she was going with Irish, just that she was going away from the fire.
Her story was one that would be shared by several others and as a group, told brilliantly by my colleague Taylor Vecsey in a series of articles, highlighting a concern few had considered before: in a sparsely-populated area, where one person told me "horses might outnumber people," . The result was .
Which brings me to my next encounter.
Upon arriving at my next location, as sundown grew near, I asked one person here and one person there where the command center was until I was on my way. It was quite a walk though, since police had barricaded the area so firefighters could...well, fight the fire. Enter, Rob Bunai.
With the area shut down for emergency vehicles only, many horse owners and volunteers who brought horse trailers to Manorville were just standing near the post office with no way of getting to their horses. Bunai, who lived on the closed road, did what he could to help them - and anyone else who needed a lift. Up and down the shut-down road, Bunai wheeled away on his ATV anyone who needed a lift - including me.
Reached on Wednesday, Bunai estimated that between him, his wife, and his son and daughter (they also used their jeep), they gave about 100 people a lift on Monday, saying he made his last ride around 10:30 p.m. As I was leaving around 9 p.m., I ran into Bunai again, who had a teenager with his PlayStation3 in tow.
"People were flipping out," he said. "They thought I was the biggest hero. Most of these people would do anything to get to their horse ... But I give these fire fighters credit. I moved to this area for the woods. If they didn't do what they did? Jeez."
I think "Jeez" is a sentiment a lot of people, including myself, can relate to following this fire. It's easy to grasp. It's inclusive.
But looking back at my notes, some other words that stick out, that portray what this scare meant to so many people at some point from Monday through Wednesday: bizarre, tsunami, concerned, crazy, fun, windy, freight train, hot spot, devastated, surrounded, appreciated, exhausted, charred, intense, calmer, lucky.
From what I've heard, the element of luck certainly played a large role in the outcome of this brush fire. But with so many people devoting their time for the safety of others, part of me has to wonder if bad luck stood a chance against this crowd.
As I searched for more faces among the crowd on Tuesday, I was reminded of this in the . I missed them on Monday night among the 100-plus fire departments on scene. But Tuesday, between EMS personnel, the Red Cross, and Salvation Army, they were hard to miss.
After the dust cleared on Tuesday and officials sent firefighters home Tuesday night, a stop by the homes of those whose luck wasn't quite as good was in order for Wednesday morning. Covering others' personal loss is an unfortunate part of this job. But it shows the damage wreaked and hopefully reminds us that something like this could one day happen to us. Much more often than not, though, covering incidents like that are made easier when you come across someone like Doug Swanson.
Doug showed up with George and Kathy Moretti at their home, which was on Wednesday morning. He spoke with Kathy as George gave me a tour of his wrecked property. I didn't have a conversation with Doug - I barely caught his last name. But his honesty and willingness to help his friend was yet another example of how bad luck can be overcome by an outstretched hand.
He was honest with George. He told him he didn't know how he would help. Just that he would. "We'll all hook up and do something," he said, as he shook George's hand.
Just like the firefighters who hooked hose after hose after hose up to the few hydrants around, and the pumpers and brush trucks they drove into the woods. Just like the individuals who provided meals and were there on call for the firefighters in case they happened upon a turn of bad luck. And just like Ron Bunai, who hooked me and about 99 others up with a lift when we could have used one.