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'Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Heat ...': Watch Mail Carrier Deliver To Burned-Out Homes

Updated at 3:45 p.m. ET

The U.S. Postal Service hasn't abandoned Santa Rosa, Calif., where hundreds of people are coping with total losses of their homes from an explosive wildfire. The scene in Santa Rosa has been compared with an apocalypse — but that didn't stop a mail truck from making the rounds in at least one devastated neighborhood this week.

Captured on video by a drone piloted by freelancer Douglas Thron, the mail truck's trip through the Coffey Park neighborhood is by turns eerie and touching. With smoke still clouding the air, the USPS carrier drives up to houses that were reduced to charred skeletal frames to drop off letters and other mail in the mailboxes that are still standing. For much of the video, the white truck is the only sign of life and normalcy.

The video raises a central question, given that houses are reduced to rubble and much of the area is under a mandatory evacuation order and curfew: Who's going to get that mail?

An answer comes from the San Jose Mercury News, which reports that residents had requested the mail to be left at their addresses, rather than keeping it at a central office. The newspaper relays this statement from USPS San Francisco District Manager Noemi Luna:

"This is an example of the long standing relationship that has been established between our carriers and their customers based on trust. The carrier in question was honoring a request by a few customers who were being let back in the fire zone to retrieve personal items. A few customers asked the carrier to leave their mail if the mailbox was still standing because they could not get to the annex to retrieve it."

The U.S. Postal Service says it doesn't have an official motto, but it acknowledges that "the popular belief that it does is a tribute to America's postal workers."

As for the famous words "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds," that sentence is a quote from The Persian Wars by Herodotus; it is chiseled in the granite edifice of the New York City Post Office on Eighth Avenue.

In posting his video, Thron wrote, "Hours after the fires in Santa Rosa I filmed this postal worker still delivering the mail." He then added a link to the Santa Rosa emergency site for those wanting to help.

Thron tells the Mercury News, "I've covered wildfires and floods before and I've never seen anything like it. I'd see areas that were totally fine, but then get to Fountaingrove Inn and The Hilton and see them wiped out. It was unbelievable."

Both in the past and during the current emergency, California fire officials have urged drone operators not to fly in areas of active fire and rescue operations, using the motto, "If you fly, we can't!" State officials have noted that when a drone is "detected flying over or near a wildfire, air operations must be suspended until all drones flying in a fire area are removed."

Thron, whose website describes him as an expert drone and seaplane aerial cinematographer licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, seems to have filmed his footage on Monday, Oct. 9.

From information on the FAA's website, it seems the agency issued no-fly restrictions on Santa Rosa's air space on Tues., Oct. 10, "to provide a safe environment for fire fighting." The restriction remains in effect for one month.

These aren't the first images from Coffey Park to illustrate the destructive intensity of the wildfires that have now killed at least 26 people and burned some 3,500 homes and other structures. On Monday, after strong winds whipped the fires into a frenzy, the wholesale destruction that hit the neighborhood was seen in before and after aerial photos.

Firefighters are facing renewed winds as they battle to contain 22 large blazes in California. Fires that ravaged wine country and other areas in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties are also threatening nearby towns, including Calistoga and Fairfield.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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