*Surviving A Wildfire*
The Un-needed Survival Plan
01 August 2003
A few years ago we had a fire on a peninsula in a nearby town. There is one road in and the same road out. There are also quite a few residences there. The fire started on the north side of course and was burning towards the end.
All of the area fire depts. and depts. from the neighboring county were toned to respond. Construction companies were called for bulldozers and excavators. The forest service responded with 2 helicopters, ground equipment and the "Hot Shot" crew. The "Hot Shots" are us crazy people (affiliated with the forestry service) who go running to a forest fire. The helicopters had to fly to ponds inland. They couldn’t fill from the ocean cuz the propwash would spit up water onto the windows and then it’d dry and cover them in salt.
Evacuation of the peninsula had already begun. The fire was approximately ˝ mile west of the road and burning south quickly. Had a good northerly wind that day.
We arrived with an 1100-gallon tanker just in time to see the black smoke and rolling orange fire cresting the top of Eagle Hill. I said "We ain’t fightin’ that with back pumps." and we didn’t. We got to the staging area and got the run down of the situation. It doesn’t take 3 people to run a tanker so I grabbed my gear and hooked up with another crew.
This crew was stationed about 1.5 miles ahead of the fire. We had a pumper truck, a 1000-gallon dump tank and 2 1˝ lines laid out. Our job was to try to protect 2 residences. We had water being shuttled to us. The ocean was about 80 feet from the truck, but it was low tide and that made the water even further away so there was no way to draft from the ocean. It was late afternoon by this time so the worst of the late spring/early summer heat was starting to desist, but we were still roasting wearing our brush gear.
Then the forest ranger in charge decided it’d be a good idea to take away our pumper and leave us with the dump tank and a Mark-3 portable pump. MK3’s are a good pump. They’ll push a lot of water in a hurry, but can’t compare to a truck. So we lost our truck :o( Nobody was very impressed. Not only did the truck leave, but so did the water shuttles and the fire was getting closer. Now we really had to conserve water.
During the next hour or so we watched the helos dropping water and we kept soaking the roofs and walls with garden hoses from the residences. Then bad news came. One of the rangers on the upper end of the fire called on the radio and told us that the fire had burned across the road and that we were in there for the duration. WONDERFUL, great, thanks for the great news! That’s when you get that really sh1tty feeling in your gut. Got a forest fire coming right at you, it’s close, you have 1000 gallons of water (about 5 minutes worth) and there’s nowhere to run.
There were 6 of us on that crew. 2 per line and 2 @ the tank. We grouped up and basically did the pucker factor thing and decided it was time for an escape plan. Yea right….escape off a peninsula…sure. So here’s what we did.
Did a gear inventory. We didn’t have much. A few hand tools and one SCBA. We surveyed our situation. We knew if the fire crowned the trees that we were pretty much screwed. The air pack was placed in a central location (right @ the Y gate) between the hose teams. We decided that when the fire hit us that we’d launch an all out assault although it would have been hopeless and then meet at the air pack and buddy breath our way out knowing full well that the fire was going to be right on top of us. The destination was the ocean. (prolly a good 300’ run from the nozzles) Keep moving until we hit water. At least we’d be safe.
One of the guys happened to have a cell phone so I called my parents and told them I wasn’t coming home anytime soon cuz we were basically trapped. Good way to get mom worried.
One of the helos flew about 300’ overhead and dumped his bucket right over top of us. That’s when you just stand there, get a good foot base, look down and get ready for a torrential downpour for about 3 seconds.
It was quite tense for about an hour. Then we got the word that the bulldozers had got a fire line built and the helos had finally managed to knock the fire down maybe 400 yards away from us. Prior to we were able to hear the fire coming through the trees.
So fortunately our "either escape or fry & die" plan didn’t need to be used. It was close though.
It took about 1 week to do the mop ups. Walking through the woods digging up hot spots, cutting down smoldering trees etc.
A short time later I ran into the homeowners of one of residences we were protecting. They wouldn’t stop saying thanks for saving their homes. It’s nice to know at the end of something like this that you did something right.
All this because somebody failed to extinguish a controlled burn.
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