By Laura Hovie, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
Fresno/Kings Ranger Unit, Piedra Station 2001 fire season.
As thick as fog in San Fransisco Bay was the smoke on the Beal Fire Road that afternoon. And before we knew it, there we were in the path of the on coming fire.
Our assignment that day was structure protection. We arrived at our destination and backed down the driveway of a large 2 story home positioned on the hillside above the rapidly approaching fire. We quickly deployed our engine protection line and two structure protection lines on either side of the house.
On the back side of the house we found a spacious wooden deck extending from the second floor and about 50 feet from the house, where a travel trailer was parked. On the other side of the trailer the land sloped downward toward Highway 168.
With the assistance of local volunteer fire fighters, my partner, Lupe, and I manned the structure protection lines and took our stand. Upon our arrival I observed only a slight breeze but as the fire drew nearer the upslope winds grew more intense. Because of the thick smoke I was not able to see the fire until it was nearly upon us. It was hard to breath the thick smoky air. My nose was running, eyes watering. Through my goggles the smoke stung my eyes. And then the bushes down the hill caught on fire, then the trees, and the grass. The fire grew closer, larger, hotter!
I waited until it was in reach of my hose stream and then opened the bale. A burst of water surged through the nozzle . . . and the hose went limp in my hands. My heart sank. I looked over to where Lupe had been standing and saw only flame. I called out to him but got no response. I grabbed my radio and waited briefly for a pause in radio traffic but the tac channel to which we were assigned was jammed. I keyed up and called to my engineer for water. I did this several times.
Finally I felt pressure in the hose again. During this time the Volunteer and I had crouched behind the trailer as the flames rolled over our heads. We got water to our hose but only in small bursts between which I would have to close down the bale and wait for the pressure to build back up. When the fire had nearly passed I sent the Volunteer up onto the deck to check for fire. He found a spot that was burning and we quickly extinguished it. I ran around to the other side of the house and found Lupe and the other volunteer putting out hot spots. When we realized that the fire had passed and we had saved the house we were ecstatic! We checked the house and the trailer and found that nothing had burned!
This story was originally published on 1/13/01
Copyright 2000 by Laura Hovie. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission of the author.