September 12, 2012 | LXXII, No. 24

Jess, Shut Up - When scary is an understatement

Back in the early 1990s, I was sent to the Chelan area for a large fire that was burning. Deano McPherson, Flint Bjorson and I took a structure truck over there as part of a “structure protection strike team.”

One day we were set up in the Navarre Coulee and were told the fire was coming but it would be hours. Our main objectives were to protect the homes we could and to not let the fire cross the highway. We spread out our trucks at the different residences there and started our wait. The house assigned to us was a red tagged house, meaning that we were not to take extreme measures to save it if the fire came. There where too many dangers associated with this home. Trees next to the house, abandoned cars, a large slash pile and a large meadow filled with dry grass. All at the bottom of the mountain slope. The slope that the fire would creep down, eventually.

Hours turned into minutes when the fire storm hit us. We couldn’t see, breath or do most anything, and before we even knew it, the fire was roaring down the hillside at a pace far from a creep, most definitely on a run. We decided as a group of three that we would not just sit and watch the fire destroy this home. We went into action.

We backed our truck down the driveway and pulled a line from the truck. We went to work laying down a wet line and were going to do a back burn towards the fire side of the home. Keep in mind, during all this we had wind, heat, and smoke everywhere and could barely see each other standing next to us. Scary was an understatement. But if you know the three of us, then you know that we were cracking jokes and smiling to ease our own fears.

Our actions were swift and probably unsafe at times but we saved the house and the fire burned completely around it. It was only as we were rolling up our hoses, we saw the fire burning on top of the mountain on the other side of the highway. The fire had completely jumped over the top of us, from one mountain top to the next.

A few years later, up near Bridgeport, my wife, Frank Sieker and Flint again, were fighting a fire up there. High winds and extreme heat were causing that fire to make a large run right at them. Before they knew it, the fire was right in front of them and 20 feet high. They took cover and used their water as an aqua shield. They couldn’t see or breath; needless to say they were scared. In a matter of five minutes, the smoke started to clear and they could see that the miles of brush behind them was now just black and charred. The fire had covered miles of open ground in a matter of minutes.

As I am writing this, there is a fire cresting the hill behind Grand Coulee and Coulee Dam and making its way down towards our homes, our community. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but this I know. There are local firefighters, both volunteer and paid, both local and out of town, out there. Standing with their hose lines and shovels, with their radios and trucks ready to protect your home, my home and our neighbors’ homes. Are they scared? Some will be, others will be unnerved. Wives and girlfriends, sisters and brothers and other family will be saying prayers for their loved ones to keep them safe. They have done this before, and they will do it again, standing in the front lines of a wildfire, waiting to destroy it before it destroys our dreams, treasures and valuables.

Yes, I wish I was out there standing beside them, and so does my wife, but our lives have taken us somewhere else. So we sit on our front porch with family and friends and watch heros do what they do: rush in when everyone else is rushing out.

Thank you, firefighters and all emergency personnel, not only the ones fighting this fire but for all the ones in the past and for those in the future. May God keep you all safe.

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