In The Grey

From Volunteering for Wildfire Cleanup to Until Death Do Us Part

A lucky second chance, a discovery of shared core values, and one incident commander in a kilt unites a pair of Greyshirts.

Greyshirts April Zauri and Jamie Brown didn’t go looking for love when they deployed alongside other Team Rubicon volunteers on a service project to remove debris from a house that had burned in the 2020 Valley Fire around Alpine, CA. It found them, anyway. Team Rubicon sat down for a Q&A with the couple about how they met and where their wildfire romance has taken them.

Team Rubicon: How did you meet? 

Jamie Brown: We met on a service project in San Diego County clearing a burned home site on a hill near a town called Jamul. I was there as a photog and April was a Greyshirt. 

April Zauri: I was sweating my a$$ off pulling a sled of concrete and metal up and down a hill all day while he bounced around as the photographer, taking pictures.

Brown: I noticed her immediately and kept trying to steal a look. Everyone was wearing masks! After a few hours, I devised a plan: I set up for a photo in the debris and asked if I could borrow her for a moment. I finally got the mask off and was able to get one of my all-time favorite Team Rubicon photos. It also opened up the conversation.

“The” photo that brought the Greyshirts together. April Zauri is surrounded by wildfire debris in Jamul, CA. Photo by Jamie Brown.

That “photo op” led to a conversation later around the campfire about a group beach day, which Brown and Zauri promptly coordinated. By the time Brown headed for the beach later in the week though he wasn’t sure if it was still a group thing or just the two of them. When Zauri arrived alone, Brown knew two things: It was not a group thing, and he was very likely going to fall in love with Zauri. Quickly.

“That first “date” was on the beach in Del Mar for sunset,” says Brown. “We sat in the sand for five hours, drank lots of wine, got parking tickets, almost froze, and loved it.”

Eight months and one massive road trip later, the couple was married on that very beach, with their incident commander from the service project, James Coler, in a Team Rubicon kilt serving as their officiant, and with 20 Greyshirts in attendance. 

April Zauri, caught in action, in Jamul, CA. Photo by Jamie Brown.
TR: Was it love at first sight? When did you realize there was something there? 

Zauri: As soon as I saw him there was a spark, and that spark quickly turned into a burning flame with our first date just five days later. Within just a week or two of our first date, I was madly in love.

Brown: At campfire in Jamul I had a feeling that there may be something significant. But it was when she was walking up at the beach a week later not covered in ash, dirt, and sweat, with her hair blowing in the breeze and bright blue eyes looking straight into me that I knew. I never looked back.

Brown: Three weeks after that beach date we were living together—following a complete failure to “take it slow.” 

Shortly after that, we embarked on a five-week, 10,000-mile road trip around the U.S. On the second day of that trip—two months to the day after meeting—we were engaged atop a snow-white sand dune in New Mexico. 

TR: Is it true that it was eight months from first sight to a wedding? 

Brown: Yes! When you know, you know!

We set the wedding date for September 10, because of another long component to this story, that marked one year to the day since our actual first contact via text…something we hadn’t known but figured out on the beach date.

Zauri: Yep! We met on January 10, 2021, and were married on September 10, 2021.

Less than two months after we met we took off on a five-week road trip around the U.S. It was on the second day of our trip when he proposed in the dunes of White Sands National Park in New Mexico with absolutely no one around and on an absolutely beautiful day. 

Greyshirts Jamie Brown and April Zauri on their wedding day.

Our trip was a whirlwind of meeting both of our friends and family and was an absolutely incredible trip. We learned very quickly how to be strong and supportive partners to each other and discovered we balance each other with each of the strengths we bring to the relationship. 

We also established a critically important value in our relationship called “TR rules.” In those moments where one of us sees something that requires us to be a bit stern or direct abruptly because of a safety issue or other concern, we don’t take it personally. We appreciate the care and concern and importance of what’s being said and treat it just like we would if we were on an op and a strike team leader or any other Greyshirt did the same thing. We had a couple of fun adventures where this came in super handy and allowed us to laugh our way through the experience with deep love and gratitude.

TR: What’s the best part about being married to a Greyshirt? 

Zauri: We both have a very strong passion for serving others. Being able to experience being a Greyshirt together is such a huge gift for us. It feeds our hearts and souls, especially when we are deployed together. Being able to live our values and serve others fulfills what we each believe is our life’s purpose. 

Brown: A common passion. We share many things, but Team Rubicon is very important to us both, and being able to do, talk, and dream that together is priceless.

TR: What’s the worst part about being married to a Greyshirt? 

Zauri: Not being able to deploy together all the time! It’s mostly the worst when he gets to deploy and I don’t. I always have FOMO and wish so much I could be there too.

Brown: Not always being able to deploy together. That’s pretty much it!

TR: How does being a Greyshirt play into your married lives? 

Zauri: We are both so fulfilled and living such full lives together and being a Greyshirt is a huge part of that. We are constantly pushing each other to build and improve our skills and capabilities that we bring to Team Rubicon. We support each other at all times when duty calls and we need to be apart to deploy. 

Brown: It gives us an understanding at a level that other couples may not have. A great example is when we are doing something that requires paying attention (backing up a trailer for instance) we declare “TR rules” and understand that, although we may be yelling to each other, we are not yelling at each other!

TR: Any saved rounds?

Zauri: Every day I wake up I am so grateful he is my husband, best friend, partner, and greatest supporter ever. There are no words that sufficiently represent my love for Jamie. He is such an incredible man and I am so thankful Team Rubicon brought us together on that ash and debris-covered hill in Jamul.

Brown: April and I both had lost hope of finding any sort of real and lasting love. When we met I was 50 and divorced three times, she was 43 and divorced twice. None of our previous relationships ended well. Neither of us was expecting anything like this. The day of our first date was my last night in my apartment in downtown San Diego (all of my belongings had gone to storage that day) and I was on my way to being nomadic for a while. This woman literally redirected my life in five hours.

Team Rubicon volunteers clean up a wildfire site in Jamul, CA. Photo by Jamie Brown.