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Two days with the Fire Pilots

Some of the bravest men and women fighting fires are the ones who do it from the sky.  They fly INTO the smoke and flames and orchestrate pin-point assaults, launching strategic airstrikes against their foe: wildfires that rage over thousands of acres.  They coordinate aerial ballets with other planes in the sky and triangulate with ground-based fire crews, laying down retardant to kill the flames that are threatening homes and the hotshot crews trying to save them. They brave the elements, fighting downdrafts, blinding smoke, and firestorms as they fly insanely close to the mountainous terrain they’re trying to save.

I visited the California Air National Guard aerial firefighting squadron -- known as the “Hollywood Guard” -- and spent some time with the folks who graze fiery mountain tops in planes for a living.  

The adventure chronicle

Off the beaten path...

into the heart of things.


I tell American stories that sing the unsung, with a focus on the inspirational characters that might get left behind or forgotten by the mainstream.


In order to find them, I practice the lost art of Shunpiking — knowing when to “shun” the turnpike and get onto the back roads where the good stories are tucked away.  The ones that remind us of our best selves.


America is a patchwork quilt, and stories are its stitching.  In a divided age, we need unifying stories more than ever.

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