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It’s all in a day’s work

The last weekend of July was one for the books. As my wife, Kerry, was finishing up on some yard work, a sudden gust of wind began assaulting our shade sails causing them to flap in aggressive, unnatural ways. To avoid potential damage, we lowered the sails quickly and stowed them where they would be safe.

I contemplated the weather that was making its way toward Jacksonville as I headed downstairs to the garage to put some tools away. Then things started getting really weird. A monstrous wind gust swept past our house. I was suddenly laser focused on the two garage door windows.

The metal panels of our garage doors started vibrating violently. At one point, the battle between the metal door panels and the wind created a loud, eerie whistling sound. With eyes glued on those tiny garage door windows, all I could see was water blowing by sideways, not downward like it is supposed to. At that moment, I heard a loud thump; the lights went out.

Running upstairs I dashed out the front door, into one of the heaviest rains I’ve seen since moving to Jacksonville from Arizona. It was reminiscent of the many times Kerry and I just sat and watched the monsoon madness engulf our former Tucson neighborhood. Now here I was, soaking wet, standing at the end of my driveway in Jacksonville, watching the chaos.

Lying across our street, preventing any escape for the six homes at the top of our cul-de-sac was an 80-foot Ponderosa pine, snapped like a toothpick 20 feet above its root base.

I was now facing a wall of pine branches, 15-feet high by 15-feet wide, and it covered the road width entirely.

Out came my cellphone. As I dialed 911, the neighbors slowly made their way out onto the street. Apparently they were all gathered in Chris’ garage, with doors open, watching the approaching storm brew. I rushed back into the house to get Kerry while speaking with 911.

A little farther up from us, a Douglas fir came down but not with a snap. This 100-foot mammoth tree just laid itself down, landing a few yards from a neighbor’s garage. The root ball was completely intact and stood easily 15 feet in the air. What a great photo opportunity, once Kerry positioned herself in the hole that once housed the root ball.

Soon enough, the Jacksonville Fire Department, City Public Works and police Officer Kaden Johnson were on site. All of the neighbors were now outside watching, mingling and cheering on the first responders. There was a hum of chain saws, reassuring us that everything was going to be all right. Within a couple of hours the road was open. The pine debris was strategically placed on both sides of the street by a front-end loader that just seemed to appear from nowhere.

Officer Johnson switched into public relations mode, entertaining all of the kids with police department stickers and a look inside of his well equipped squad car. We thanked Officer Johnson for his community spirit, and he replied with a smile, “it’s all in a day’s work.”

As the last of the rescue teams departed, Officer Johnson, at our request, slowly drove off into the sunset; the whoop whoop of his siren loudly echoed as every one of his emergency lights proudly came to life.

I sent a series of digital pictures and video to KOBI-TV and was pleased to receive a call from them a few hours later asking my permission to use my digital media. For the next 3 or 4 days, I was thrilled to see friends and neighbors on TV making the best of this situation. For days to come there would be plenty to talk about at the dinner table.

Richard Hunter lives in Jacksonville.

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