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The King Fire: We Almost Burn

October, 2014

We got close, very close to losing our house.  An arson started a fire near our home town of Pollock Pines.  When the rains finally put it out weeks later almost 100,000 acres had burned and the fire set records for the number of resources and the number of retardant drops.

A few days after it started I was returning from a business trip so I stayed at 12,500 feet, well above the fire TFR to show our myself and our neighbors what we had been hearing – that the fire was burning down-canyon and away from us.  We felt some relief.

 

Our house is way to the right and not in the photo.  Terrible fire, but so far we are safe.

Our house is way to the right and not in the photo. Terrible fire, but so far we are safe.

Another view of the flame front

Another view of the flame front

Whoops, not so fast.  The winds shifted and all of sudden we were in danger.  The fire made one run at us and we were given an hour to evacuate on Monday evening. I had actually decided to jog out to the edge of the canyon to take a look and luckily I was smart enough to take the hand-held scanner with me.  Part way there I heard them give the command to evacuate our neighborhood, saying that if the fire jumped highway 50, they would not be able to stop it.  I turned around and sprinted home, then started throwing stuff (we had pre-packed stuff on the front deck) into vehicles.  The fire had roared up the canyon to Camp 5, a canal maintenance camp below us near highway 50.  However the firefighters successfully kept the fire from jumping the canal.

The next day I snuck back in even though technically we were still under evacuation orders.  I listened in fascination to the aerial fire-fighting channels as they used DC-10s, DC-8s, S-2s and other attack craft along with over 20 helicopters.

Pryocumulus clouds from Safeway store in Pollock Pines

Pryocumulus clouds from Safeway store in Pollock Pines

From the road I live on.  Not looking good.

From the road I live on. Not looking good.

At one point I went down to the end of a spur road (Crystal Summit Drive) in our neighborhood and the smoke was thick and it was obvious the fire was close. The fixed-wing guys couldn’t work it because of the smoke but there was a constant stream of helicopters.  But it was dusk and they couldn’t fly much longer.

Nothing but smoke...

Nothing but smoke a few yards from highway 50. Time to go.

The sheriff came through out neighborhood again to make sure everyone was out, but we were gone by then.  One neighbor that stayed until dark said there were sparks flying above the trees and a red glow filled the sky. He emailed everyone to say he didn’t think our homes would be there by morning and then he fled.

The firefighters had 35 engines practically bumper-to-bumper down on highway 50 and they battled all night, at times fighting a crown fire fully engulfing the trees.  The fire jumped the highway several times and they put it out.  They lit backfires to try to burn out the undergrowth.   They sprayed each other to keep cool.  They pumped water out of the canal and water was flowing inches deep in places on highway 50.  They dropped trees that were on fire back down-canyon into the fire.  They overflew with planes equipped with infrared and recorded hot spots in our neighborhood.  It sounded like it was a full-blown battle and they won.

When it comes to protecting structures and homes these guys are truly amazing.  Wow.

Had the fire jumped the highway and took hold our neighborhood would be gone, there isn’t any doubt.  Perhaps a few homes would still stand, but not the trees.  This was driven home by the fact that they dug a fuel break behind our neighborhood.  If the fire jumped 50 they were going to run back behind our neighborhood and try to make another stand there.

We couldn’t “re-populate” for 4 more days but the fire at our end of the fire area was pretty burned out and we felt that unless the wind shifted again we were safe.  A few days after that I had a business meeting so I took these photos on the way out:

Our neighborhood is right above the two large white buildings along lower edge.

Our neighborhood is right above the two large white buildings along lower edge.

Pollock Pines

Pollock Pines

 

Nothing but smoke...

Nothing but smoke…

At the end of our driveway.

At the end of our driveway.

A neighbor blew up one of my photos and put it on a poster-board.  She drew a line to each house and we all were able to say our sincere thanks on the huge thank you card.  We found out later they showed the “thank you card” at the morning King Fire briefing at fire camp.  Really cool.  And easier than baking 8,000 brownies, one for each firefighter.

One Comment leave one →
  1. cowboybob permalink
    October, 2014 4:05 pm

    Ney,

    Glad all is well. Sounds like you had quite the scare. We spend most every summer with our valley full of smoke off-and-on in western Montana. But it’s rare when the actual fire gets very close to us. And I am sure thankful for that.

    Most all our smoke comes on prevailing winds from Idaho/Oregon and i think occasionally from the bigger ones from California. Not sure if we got any from this one…looks like it was (is?) sure a humdinger. I often overfly fire TFR’s at the height of the “season” on my Montana-Seattle run and am constantly reminded of the danger lurking.

    Cheers,
    Bob

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