Through the years, I’ve witnessed plenty of devastating fires in my career, and I’m always struck by how they ultimately show the heart of a community.
This has certainly been the case in the Kern Valley. Residents there watched in horror as the Erskine Fire stormed through neighborhoods Friday afternoon and evening. By Saturday morning, as the level of the destruction was becoming clear, residents around Kern County were mobilizing relief efforts for the mountain communities.
I was able to follow a lot of the action via Facebook, where Rex Emerson maintains the Kern Valley News & Info page. With social media leading the way, residents were able to share information about damage, needs (many were without power or water) and where to take donations.
On the Facebook page there are hundreds of messages of goodwill, support and hope about the future.
With our busy lives we sometimes ignore the power of community, or even neighborliness, but in the case of Kern Valley that sense of place and belonging is emerging when people need it most.
The pain of this horrendous fire will last for some time but it’s clear that the spirit of Kern County’s mountain communities can be bent but never broken.
Through the years newspapers have taken a substantial hit to the size of their staffing, and we’re no exception. However, it’s stories like the Erskine Fire that remind me about the vital role we still play in our communities.
On Friday, I walked into the office of Senior Editor Robert Price and just said: “Small but mighty.” He knew I was talking about our staff, because literally every person in The Bakersfield Californian’s newsroom contributed to our fire coverage.
One example was Sports Editor Zach Ewing, who is at conference in North Carolina, putting together an interactive map of the fire. Despite the late hour, he was able to get it done and send it to us to use on bakersfield.com.
And if you didn’t get a chance to read it, please visit Bakersfield.com and read photographer Casey Christie’s column about living in the line of a fire and covering it as well. It’s a terrific read.
TEXAS AND BAKERSFIELD PRIDE
My column last week drew plenty of comment from readers who wanted to share their thoughts about Bakersfield pride, Austin, Baylor and Texas in general.
Musician Jerry Hobbs wrote to bemoan the loss of traditional country music here in Bakersfield. “Sometimes I wish I had lived in Texas where they still play 'the good old stuff,’” Hobbs wrote.
However, Hobbs is still playing that Western Swing here in Bakersfield and you can catch some of his music on YouTube.
I also got some nice comments from Jerry Bowen, who had some suggestions I need to follow up on, and from Lynette Congdon, whose daughter graduated from Baylor.
Louis Amestoy is the vice president of content for TBC Media and editor of The Bakersfield Californian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.