When it comes to grasping the importance of every play he makes on the football field, if Buffalo Bills rookie linebacker Tanner Vallejo ever needs perspective, he can turn to his family.
While the Bills (4-2 following Sunday’s 30-27 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) are worried about winning football games, Vallejo’s father, Rick, and two of his brothers, Cody and Zach, are putting their lives on the line battling the wildfires that have ravaged thousands of homes in both Northern and Southern California.
Rick and Zach serve as firefighters in the Lake Tahoe region of California, while Cody is helping contain blazes in Southern California. The work is grueling, as each member of the Vallejo family works 24-hour shifts on the fire lines, with a 24-hour day off immediately following the conclusion of each shift.
"They fight fires and save homes," Vallejo said last week during the worst of the blazes in California. "They can walk around and do whatever on the camp. A lot of them love it there because you're not locked down in a cell. ... It doesn't worry me because I know who they are and what they're capable off. I think that they're real good at handling crazy situations like that”
“But at the end of the day, you never know what a fire is going to do. You hear of firefighters dying on the line. So I just keep them in my prayers. Just always tell your loved ones you love them."
Over the past few weeks, the rash of fires have affected nearly 6,000 houses, with most of the damage occurring two hours west of the Vallejo’s Penn Valley home, which is situated roughly 45 minutes west of Lake Tahoe.
The recent outbreak of fires have also made a personal impact on the Vallejo family, as Tanner’s mother, Kelly, and younger brother, Hunter, had to evacuate their home early last week.
"Just a scary deal. You can't mess with Mother Nature," said Vallejo, who the Bills selected in the sixth round (pick 195) out of Boise State. "The winds changed, thankfully, and pushed it the other way. But there are still some structures burning and people's homes burning. Thoughts go out to them."
"It has been dry out there a lot, so it's just been waiting to happen," he said. "Just thankful that more houses didn't burn [in the Penn Valley area]."
Vallejo has made five appearances on special teams with one assisted tackle during his rookie season.