BERKELEY (KPIX) — When the 121st Big Game between Cal and Stanford was postponed due to unhealthy smoke from the Camp Fire in November, firefighters from all over California were busy battling that tragic blaze. The move was only the second time in the history of the teams’ rivalry.
Fast-forward to December 1, and Memorial Stadium was packed with students and fans of Cal and Stanford sitting alongside some of the heroes from California’s deadly fires.
UC Berkeley offered 1,000 free tickets to the first responders who fought the Camp Fire and their families. During a ceremony, there was a salute to these heroes before the kick-off at noon.
Heather McDonald and her fiance Craig Holsey came to Memorial Stadium on Saturday to root for the Golden Bears and to support the firefighters who bravely fought the Camp Fire.
Heather and Craig haven’t had much to cheer about in the last few weeks. The Butte County blaze swept through their neighborhood just 12 days after they moved into their home in Paradise. The November 8 fire destroyed most of the town.
“We weren’t even settled in and watched it burn on TV,” said fiancé Craig Holsey.
“It’s been hard,” McDonald said. “What we thought was our future has changed.”
Sporting her “Butte (County) Strong” t-shirt, Heather and Craig came to support Cal and the firefighters that bravely fought the Camp Fire.
“They’re just amazing,” said the couple. “We are just so grateful, we can’t thank them enough.”
These first responders were not recognized just for their work on the Camp Fire, but for what seems like a long fire season that just hasn’t stopped since the blazes in the North Bay last year.
Captain Dan Farren, with the Petaluma Fire Department, knows first-hand what it means to battle wildland blazes for days on end.
“It’s been very difficult, it takes a lot of guys to go away from our home agencies.” he said. “Last year, we had Santa Rosa and they were long battles.”
Long battles that Farren’s family members watched mostly from afar until it all hit home during the devastating Wine Country wildfires last year.
“It’s always emotional because we’re from Santa Rosa so last year, when the fires were going on, it was my hometown that was on fire. It was me worrying about losing our home. It really put everything in perspective in a completely different way,” said Bailey Farren, Dan’s daughter.
Survivors of the Camp Fire are trying to put their tragedy in perspective as they look to rebuild their homes.
“We feel luckiest of the unluckiest of the unlucky because we were able to get our dog and get a few things and get out,” said McDonald.
At least 88 people died in the fire and 25 are still unaccounted for.