They call it The Roll for short. Now in its 22nd year, the Roll on the Mattole, the annual mini-music/firefighter's fest at the Mattole Grange Hall, is put on by the Honeydew Volunteer Fire Company.
"It's our major fundraiser of the year," said Kevin Houle, who lives out in Honeydew and has been a firefighter for the local VFD for four years. He figures they may take in anywhere from $6,000-$20,000 this Saturday, "depending on how good a turn-out we get." That will potentially cover most of the $10-20K required to run the 25-member department that covers 100 square miles; otherwise, they depend on donations. "The budget depends on what we have -- sometimes we have to go without things," said Houle. "We do a few other things: We sell our fire company t-shirts and make a few hundred a year, but mostly we rely on The Roll."
The Roll includes the usual festival amenities: Booths with local crafters, food and drink, a Kids' Zone, dancing to music, music, music (we'll get to that later) and, because it's a VFD kind of thing, the Annual Firefighters Challenge.
"We have three events," Houle said of the Challenge. "One involves everyone getting into your turnouts [firefighters' protective gear], which is a timed event, then doing a competition with back-pack pumps. If you're away from the truck, that would be what you're using. The next event is a hand-line, basically digging with hand tools, scraping away grass to make a fire break. The last event is a hundred feet progressive hose lay."
The competition is good-natured fun usually among neighboring VFDs. "Sometimes we get teams from outside, but generally it's our company against other companies in the Mattole Valley -- Petrolia, Whitethorn, Whale Gulch, Telegraph Ridge."
They share in common the willingness to put themselves on the line to protect their communities. So far this year Houle's been lucky and only had to go out on one fire. "It was a structure fire, which we don't do often -- most of the time we do wildland fires -- but this recent one involved a house, a trailer and a car, about 20 minutes off the county road by 4-wheel drive. As often is the case, the structure was engulfed by the time the first person was on the scene. At that point, keeping the fire out of the wildland is our main goal. It was at night, which is the best -- it won't spread as easily because the natural fuels have more moisture at night."
Returning to the music at The Roll, it rocks and rolls all day, starting outdoors but moving inside the Grange before dark. The lineup includes rockin' blues ’n' roll by the Jeff Jolly Band, up from San Francisco for the occasion, hard rock by The Rezonators, world fusion by WoMama, soul-pop by Berel Alexander, whiskey-soaked "honky tonk ’n' roll" by Side Iron, and the reggae folk stylings of Jenifer Breeze, all from NoHum, plus local boy Johnny Walker. "He's out of Southern Humboldt and is fairly well-known down here from playing with different bands, mostly blues, but other stuff too," said Houle.
The Roll runs from noon until midnight at the Mattole Grange Hall at 36512 Mattole Rd. between Honeydew and Petrolia. Camping is available at A.W. Way, the county campground a couple of doors down from the Grange. Admission is $20, $15 for students and seniors, no charge for kids under 10. They ask that you leave your dog at home. And please be fire-safe. The VFDs want the day off.