The thick, black, smoke twisted angrily above the Caldecott Tunnel, like the flared nostrils of some medieval dragon as I approached Station 1 the afternoon of the Firestorm. Gung-ho, and not afraid of anything, I found myself assigned to the crew of 5633 under the command of Lt. Robert Bouska with firefighters Jeff Ingracia and Kip Christain. We were assigned to protect structures somewhere south east of Claremont Canyon, where the fire was devouring everything combustible in its path. We were the fire’s prey – but not helpless. Using wildland firefighting techniques we cut trees and cleared brush to protect property. At one point, uphill of our location a fully engulfed carport sent a flaming vehicle downhill right at me, only by the grace of God did I dodge that bullet. Shortly, there after we were assigned to a CDF Strike Team (a group of five engine companies) and ordered to the east side of Hwy 13 to protect homes one of which was that of a retired Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief.
During our code 3 ride to this new assignment, we saw people scampering everywhere, their eyes wide open with terror and disbelief. It was an amazing scene – power poles exploding, trees vaporizing, and we were going right into it! Arriving on scene, we attached to a rare live hydrant and with the hose as our weapon we attacked the roaring flames. At one point, our supply line got cut by a fleeing vehicle and we lost water pressure. The radiant heat of the advancing fire threatened to cook us like over-sized shrimp on BBQ, fortunately quick thinking and a hose clamp put us back in business and we saved the homes. In the aftermath of the Firestorm, I was assigned to search and rescue details which consisted of digging though the ash and rubble looking for human bodies. Seeing firsthand the awesome destructive potential of fire alters forever your view of life and what matters most.