The quail fire started in Alpine on July 10th, 2012. I called en route and met with my Assistant Chief in the Smith’s parking lot, as it would take me an extra 15 minutes to arrive at the station. En route to the fire, we also picked up our Captain from the side of the highway. This was quite entertaining because we only knew the general location he would be waiting at! Keep in mind that we were running code to the fire (lights and sirens). So imagine the thoughts going through people’s heads when we pulled off of the side of the freeway, picked up some guy running up the road trying to catch up to us, and pull off! I would find that quite amusing, personally, but we are a fully Volunteer Fire Department so we do what we can with the resources we have.
As we are driving East toward the burning mountain, nobody has the consideration to pull off to the right of the highway to get out-of-the-way of our brush truck. There were a few times that we were almost involved in a crash simply because of the lack of the community’s situational awareness. With that being said, we arrived on scene in one piece (somehow)!
When we arrived, we found the Incident Commander and asked where he would like us to go. We were told to tie in with a few other local brush trucks, so we happily obliged. As we parked and prepared to attack, we see that a big barn is on fire up the hill ahead of us. The combination of wildland fire and structure fire is called “Urban Interface”. The brush and trees surrounding the barn were also torching, but everything seemed to be pretty stable and under control…..for the time being.
I went with my partner at the time and pulled out another brush truck’s hose reel. We then walked up a small hill to where the brush and trees were working, while our Assistant Chief tied in with another crew and went to put the barn fire out. Everything went well at first. My partner was on the nozzle and I was doing lookout for us when he decided he wanted to help put the barn out with Chief, so he handed me the nozzle and told me to roll with it!
He wandered farther up the hill to meet up with the crew doing initial attack on the barn, and I sprayed at the bushes and trees in front of me. I was having a great time, thinking about taking some pictures, and enjoying my job when the wind decided to shift. I was still in the clear, but called out a warning that the fire had started to come toward me. I couldn’t see the crew above me at the barn, so I was completely unaware that the door had just been opened and the building flashed (basically exploded). At that moment, with the wind gearing up for attack, everything around us lit up nearly instantly.
At this point I had been on my share of fires, but I have never been in “danger”. So I yelled up at the crew that the fire was coming, and I wasn’t sure if I needed to back out or not. I am sure they didn’t even hear me, as the structure had just exploded and now there were bigger problems to deal with. So I continued to spray the flames, really to no avail because the flames were tall and I was unable to keep it under control any longer.
It’s interesting to look back on it now and break down everything that happened in just a few brief moments. At that moment that I was pondering on whether or not I was going to egress, behind me a loud voice yells toward me, “Get out! Get out now! It’s surrounding you!” repeatedly. I had a moment of uncertainty. Do I run down the hill with the hose? Do I wait to see if my crew is still alive and coming down? Do I drop the hose and run? Then my training decided to kick in and everything became clear. I yelled up to the crew, not knowing if they were there or if they could even hear me “Get out! Now!” I dropped the hose and took off down the hill to the road. I was breathing heavily, looking around in circles wondering where my Assistant Chief and Captain were! I panicked. My first thought was, “I should have made sure they got out. I should have made sure they heard us. I shouldn’t have let them go up there. I Shouldn’t have let them die.”
I was distraught for what felt like five minutes going through everything in my head step by step. How I could have prevented this, how I could have saved them, how I would be able to live with myself after this, and why me? Why this day? Why them?”. My heart sank pretty much to the bottom of my stomach and then my Assistant Chief and Captain emerge from the blaze. Keep in mind that it only felt like an eternity that I was sure they hadn’t survived. I think a tear even thought about dropping. My crew is my family.
Everyone was okay! Everything went surprisingly well, except that the barn and native around it were goners. But you can’t win them all, I guess. I don’t know for sure if I had ever been so happy in my life than when I was when I saw my brothers.
At this point you may be wondering what went through my mind when all was said and done. Well, I’ll tell you. After seeing everyone safe, sound, and most importantly alive, I wondered if I could continue to be a firefighter after this event. I took a minute to myself and wondered if I was cut out for this career! A few minutes passed when my answer came to me. I looked at Chief, turned toward the truck, grabbed our hose reel, and carried on.
To view the Quail Fire photo album in its entirety, Click Here!