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West Fires - Off Road Notes

Posted in Features on December 1, 2006
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As I'm writing this, terrible fires throughout the West are being controlled as others are started by lightning strikes or, unfortunately, people. One fire was the Sawtooth Complex that raged through Pioneertown, California, destroying thousands of acres of beautiful high desert flora and fauna as well as many homes.

Doug Meyer is a friend of mine who produces ATV TV, ATV Sport TV, and 4x4 TV on The Outdoor Channel. Doug lives in Pioneertown, so I called him as soon as I heard about the fire. I wasn't able to get through but was able to leave a message on his machine, which I figured was a good thing because if the machine was still there, so was Doug's house. A few days later I received an e-mail from him. I think you'll be interested in it:

Phil,
Thanks for the call. It has been hectic to say the least. Yes, we're okay. The fires came straight in and my neighbors up the road and I were the first line of defense. The very first strike on Sunday was about 2 miles from us up in the rough country. The firefighters parked all their ground crews in my yard and hiked in from here. All looked wonderful Tuesday morning, so I headed for the studio downtown where I print the shows to Beta for The Outdoor Channel.

I received a call around 1:00 and was told the fire looked bad again, so I headed home. I got here in time to hook up my trailer and load it with all the essentials. My wife couldn't make it up, as the road was closed to all traffic right behind me.

Neighbors packed and fled. I attempted to gather frightened pets. Two fire crews and a fire caterpillar pulled into my front yard and I suddenly knew it was too late. The fire came over the last hill at 40 mph! It took less than a minute for the wall of flames to completely engulf us. The firefighters (from Tulare, California) looked at me and said it's too late to run -- it's time to fight! Just remember, when we leave, you leave.

It was an absolutely amazing two hours. The dozer was pushing the burning trees in my front yard. The fire trucks were parked in front of my truck and the chief's truck. It was completely crazy -- running from one hot spot to another and then diving into the chief's truck for fresh air and back out again. The flames were too hot to even look at. But we did it!

My house and garage are completely intact. The neighbor's house is gone. The next one up lost their garage. The next is gone. The one after that lost his huge shop and a part of his house. The town lost a lot of homes, but I'm still more amazed at how many are left.

One neighbor got burned as his fire crew got overrun, dropped everything, and ran from the fire. As they raced out, he checked his shop, which was being engulfed, and as he stepped out the door, the fire truck dragging the hoses behind it tripped him. As he fell to the ground, he grabbed the hose and they drug him out and down the street. The fire truck caught fire and the firemen didn't know which way was out. They all got burned, but all burns were surprisingly minor.

I have worked constantly keeping things going here using a generator and the water in my fire tank. We got power late Saturday night and a little water Sunday. Telephone as well. Things are looking better -- at least for us. There are a lot of other folks with lots to do. The dead wildlife is absolutely horrible. My only problem other than the drastic scenery change from paradise to hell is how to work. No film location here at the house anymore. No testing or filming of ATVs anywhere within miles.Thanks so much for your concern. Talk to you later.
Doug

Wow! What a harrowing experience for the people in Pioneertown and the fire crews who came from all over to help. This tableau is repeated many times throughout fire season as firefighters put their lives on the line to protect us. The backcountry crews hike or truck in, aided by air support when they can get it, and work in sometimes horrific, life-threatening conditions to extinguish wildfires. So because of that we say, "Thanks, firefighters everywhere. You're the REAL off-roaders!"

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