TAYLORSVILLE, Calif. — In the six long weeks since the Dixie fire, the second largest fire on record in California, broke out in the northern Sierra Nevada, the blaze has scorched vast forests, burned gold rush towns and rocked thousands. of lives, forcing people across 1,000 square miles to flee their homes.
Through it all, the scattered residents of the Greenville area, a town of about 1,000 nearly destroyed at the beginning of this month, could count on at least one thing: Daniel Kearns’ raspy, reassuring voice helping them understand what was going on. happens at home.
mr. Kearns, a volunteer firefighter from nearby Taylorsville, posts daily live videos explaining the latest fire activity maps — which at first glance appear as if the fire has swallowed the entire place — and show that reality on the ground, however, very, very smoky, is a little less terrifying than it looks from a distance.
“It’s only through all this that I can hear that the fire is around our family home and I feel calm about it,” Michaela Garcia wrote this week about Mr. Kearns’ videos from Chico. “Thank you, Dan, we really are so lucky.”
A former Marine, Mr Kearns, 39, can radiate calm even when the mountain is behind him on fire and flowing smoke – as it was this week when the fire threatened Taylorsville – or when it approaches places he knows well. “From my mother,” he said recently, pointing at the map.
He started posting the daily live videos on his personal Facebook page in late July, about two weeks after the Dixie fire broke out, as he saw misinformation spreading online about cities being destroyed in the Indian Valley, which is surrounded by densely forested mountains. “I could see it really upset people,” he said.
Audiences for the videos soared after Greenville burned down on Aug. 4 and more of the area was evacuated in the following weeks. Even as he helped firefighters fend off the flames, Mr. Kearns collected information for his videos by touring the valley in his fire truck and meeting regularly with Forest Service personnel.
Many locals felt the fire department’s own briefings were superficial or that they painted a misleadingly cheerful picture of events on the ground, said Travis Rubke, a retired science teacher who had to evacuate from Greenville. “It’s nice to have a local,” said Mr. Rubke. “People say, ‘You have to tune in to Dan.'”
The Lookout, a website operated by Zeke Lunder, a forestry and fire expert whose heat maps and analytics are also widely followed by people in the fire’s path, has referred to him as “volunteer community PIO/hero Daniel Kearns”. And his videos are now viewed a whopping 3,000 times a day by people as far away as New Mexico and New Zealand.
“I’ve found that the truth, no matter how painful and ugly it may be, calms people,” Mr Kearns said in an interview. “And this is a very important time for people to be calm.”
However, there is more to its appeal than just the latest facts. Mr. Kearns personalizes his videos with off-the-shelf comments, passionate critiques of federal forest management policy and soulful reflections on ‘the trauma on our country and our people’.
He ends each video by taking off his cap, closing his eyes and calling for “a moment of silence for our natural relationships” – the burning forests and the bears, foxes, deer and other animals that live in them.
Those moments—much like the videos themselves—have provided a daily ritual for those thrown far from their homes and neighbors, and a mantra for those still in the valley trying to keep the flames away from cattle ranches and sacred Native Americans. ground.
Mr Kearns says he hopes to remain a calm voice and source of accurate information as long as the fire continues. But he often reminds his audience, “I’m just a man.”
And if senior people don’t like his videos, he says, the worst thing they can do is take his hat off.