When wildfires raged through more than 300,000 acres in Washington's North Cascade Mountains last summer, 1,250 firefighters worked day and night to protect communities. One of those brave firefighters was 39-year-old Jason Hubbard.
A volunteer firefighter in the Okanogan district, Hubbard spent 12 grueling days on the fire's front lines, including five straight days with little to no sleep.
"It started with seven or eight lightning strikes on a Friday last August," he says. "We saw smoke coming from one, but we couldn't find it. And two days later it just blew up."
Three days after the fires began burning, they came within a quarter-mile of Hubbard's home in Riverside, Wash. He agreed to let his home burn because he lived in an area where battling the flames could compromise the firefighters' safety. He watched as the fire climbed over a hill and approached his neighborhood. His home was spared.
"Our fire department and neighboring fire departments kept the fire from destroying all but three homes. For the magnitude of the fires, it should have been a lot worse. Each tried to burn Riverside three times from three different directions," he says.
Eventually, flames turned to simmers and Hubbard's final firefighting shift came to a close. Weary and exhausted, he made his way home to catch some rest.
His next shift as a UPS package car driver would begin in a few short hours.
Erika Kar, co-owner of One Cup Coffee in Mazama, Wash., got to know Hubbard beginning in 2009 as "her UPS guy." Kar runs her business from home, and Hubbard comes by almost daily with deliveries.
When the wildfires cut off her access to the neighboring town of Omak, Hubbard volunteered to pick up anything she might need there as he passed through, since the only way she could reach the town was to drive the long way around – 210 miles round trip.
Hubbard's route covers tight-knit communities in Winthrop and Mazama in north-central Washington. He can often be seen darting in and out of local businesses and even running errands for customers.
"I'm always in town anyway, so I don't have any problem running them supplies. My customers aren't just customers; they've become my friends," he says. "The great thing about small communities is that you have your own route and you get to know people."
Kar agrees. "When Jason shows up to our house, my kids (Sebastian and Bellamy, both 12) run out of the house to greet him. He always has time to talk with them. He truly likes them, and they can tell," she says.
On the Friday before Kar left with her family to Mexico for 10 months, Jason went out of his way to bid them farewell.
"Does anyone else hug their UPS guy? I sort of doubt it," Kar says.
Although Hubbard was initially just filling in for another driver when he was asked to deliver along the Winthrop/Mazama route, the community has grown on him.
"I promised my customers this is the route I'll retire on," he says. He joined UPS in 2002 and began driving two years later. "When I filled in, I got to know the county and the people. I decided if this route came open I would take it and retire on it. I love the community."
Getting to know the county also helped Hubbard when he decided to enter politics. "I know everyone, I get along with everyone, and I do a little bit of everything," he says. After sitting in on city council meetings, he was asked to fill a vacant position.
And with the encouragement of acquaintances, friends and neighbors, he ran for mayor of Riverside. He won the election unopposed.
When he's not working for UPS, fighting fires, helping his neighbors or serving as a local politician, Hubbard, the father of three daughters, is working toward getting his pilot's license. "Other than my kids, that's my passion," he says.
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