A recent report issued by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection provides new details on the ordeal four firefighters had to go through during one of the most devastating wildfires in the state’s history.
According to the report, the four men were dropped Sept. 12 by a helicopter near what seemed a tiny blaze affecting 20 acres of land. But a gust of wind turned the small fire into a nightmare for the four firefighters who were forced to call for help before hiding into their emergency tents.
All men were severely burned in the raging Valley Fire which turned to ashes more than 1,000 homes, killed four people, and charred about 100 square miles. The four firefighters are the first victims of the blaze, which forced them to seek shelter at a goat pen and from there to a metallic barn.
The men recalled that one of the nearby hillsides virtually morphed into a ‘wall of fire’ right before their eyes. The heat was unbearable so they looked for shelter since they felt their faces burning.
One of the men recalls that while he and his colleagues were hiding under the fireproof shelters they carried along, when he tried to drink some water, it was too hot to drink. Emergency crews in aircrafts couldn’t locate them because of the thick smoke. And any effort to contain fire and rescue the men was unsuccessful.
Eventually, division chief Jim Wright and two other firefighters rushed to their colleagues rescue. The three men drove like crazy a pickup truck through the blazing inferno to get the four trapped firefighters out. All four men were badly burned. Two are still in a hospital, while one may not survive.
Wright recalls that he was trying to evacuate residents from the area as the wildfire continued to spread. He soon heard the four men’s call for rescue via his station. He realized that the firefighters were near his location so he asked help from his colleagues to help him out.
He and two other firefighters drove his pickup despite the thick smoke until they saw the four trapped men in their emergency tents.
“I hit my air horn and they popped up,”
His colleagues helped him to carry the injured men to his pickup and drove them to a nearby helicopter. A retired firefighter said that there is a standard procedure in such situations the four men didn’t follow. They needed a ‘safety zone’ to stay in it and communicate it to other firefighters. Plus there were issues with their equipment.
Image Source: Wikipedia