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One thing the recent wildfires showed us is the media's need to find villains, victims and fools during the narrative of destruction. One popular example of the last category was a pair of men living in Big Tujunga Canyon who, we were told, decided to wade out the Station Fire in their hot tub. At the time of the stories it seemed as though their decision not to evacuate was the height of folly -- yet one we eagerly bought into as an example of a California mindset gone insane. Now, according to a compelling story in the L.A. Times, one of the men has come forward to dispute the story -- or, at least, to pose a counter-narrative.
Julius Goff, who would be badly burned by the August blaze, said he had no intention of ignoring the evacuation order but tried to remain just long enough to pass on the alert to 10 other neighbors who hadn't gotten the warning. It cost him dearly, as flames bore down upon him and a roommate whom he only knew by the man's first name. Trapped by the fire, the men believed their only hope was to jump into their home's hot tub. The Times quotes a grateful neighbor saying of Goff, "This guy saved my life."
Eventually National Forest Service personnel arrived on the scene with body bags and rescued the two men, who had to be hospitalized -- earlier, firefighters had pulled out of the area when their presence became untenable. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger later turned Goff and his roommate into public pinatas for ignoring evacuation orders.
"Goff's account of trying to step into the void," the Times noted, "when authorities failed to reach all of his neighbors comes amid other questions about how the fire was fought in the Angeles National Forest." And, the paper might add, how it was depicted in the media.