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Ian Riggle

On October 8, 2017, a series of fires started in Northern California, fueled by wind and dry vegetation. These fires destroyed more than 7,000 structures as they burned through 36,800 acres in Sonoma and Napa counties over an agonizing 23 days. The largest, the Tubbs fire, was the most destructive in California's history.

And while the fires were extinguished more than 6 months ago, Ian Riggle recalls the instantly recognizable smell of smoke like it was yesterday.

Riggle, a senior sourcing specialist, looked outside on that early-October day and saw that smoke was thick around his home. After evacuating his family to a safer area, he jumped online and saw that 90 cell sites were already off-air due to burned fiber. And the fires were moving unbelievably fast and burning everything in their path.

Ian and team kept our wireless network 99% operational, working long days all month, with a mask over his mouth to breathe.

"This hit close to home," Ian said. "I used to live in a neighborhood that's no longer there. I have friends who were evacuated, and making sure their phones worked was important, like it is every day. But in a disaster, it's even more important."

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Meeting colleagues on the fly

Because of the fires, Ian made contacts and met people across the company with whom he might otherwise have never crossed paths.

"You learn quickly in those situations," Ian said. "We received a quote to replace our Mount St. Helena cell site. The quote was more money and longer outage time than I could accept. Then we found a trailer from our Network Disaster Recovery (NDR) team."

Together, operations techs and vendors helped restore service.

"You can't prepare for fires, like you can with storms," Ian said. "We pray it doesn't happen again. I learned more about our NDR assets and human resources and equipment. Restoring some of the sites as quickly as we had to opened us up to different possibilities."