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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fire and No Off Switch

My husband once again was subjected to my inability to find my "Off" switch from ACO to regular person.
It was my day off and my husband and I had gone into town to have a little lunch at a sandwich place. We had finished and where just pulling back onto the main street in town. Our conversation was about what we were going to do next. I said that I was stuffed and just wanted to go home and relax. It was about then that we noticed that large black column of smoke ahead of us.
I'm sure that if I hadn't been destine to be an ACO, then I would have been a Firefighter, my dad had been one and I am very much like my father. So, my natural curiosity had me driving in that direction. I told my husband, lets just see where it's at. We turned from main street onto the main Boulevard and headed in the direction of the smoke. The column was getting bigger and blacker. We heard the sirens behind us and pulled over for the fire trucks. Three went zooming by, followed by the 2 battalion commander trucks. The whole town was gravitating in the direction of the small. It's a Saturday afternoon and nothing much going on in town.

I knew the area pretty well and instead of going directly towards the smoke, or following the fire trucks like everyone else, I went passed and would loop up and around. That move put us in to the right spot. We were very close now.
I realized at the time how close we were to "JJ's" horse ranch. And how close the smoke was to her ranch. "JJ" is a person that we have been called out to her horse ranch a few times. I knew that she had about 20-30 horses, and if this was close she might need some help.
As I pulled closer to JJ's ranch, we realized that the fire was DIRECTLY behind JJ property. Close enough to be dangerous to the horses. There was a battalion chief standing next to the barn assessing the fire I assume. I pulled into the driveway and got out, putting my ACO badge on my belt.
There were two ladies and a young boy on the ranch. They were trying to find ropes and halters to get the horses moved. One of the ladies, Kristin, didn't even have horses on the property, she just stopped to see if anyone needed help as she lived down the street. The other lady owned a horse on the property and she had already moved it to the arena. JJ wasn't there. The lady who had a horse there told me she was trying to call JJ. The fire was right at the back fence, where two horses where in paddocks. Thick black billowing smoke and flames were right there. You could feel the heat. Another four horses were in small paddocks close by. All the horses were very distress and basically freaking out with the noises, smells and smoke. We started moving the horses closest to the fire away. While doing this, something exploded. Made the horses even more jumpy.
I was also on the phone trying to get a hold of my dispatch, and to also try to get a hold of JJ. I had dispatch try to call her. Dispatch asked if I needed to have any officers respond and I told them at this point I didn't think so. Our department has suffered some hard staffing hits due to budget cuts in the county and we were already short staffed. I was there and if we needed more help I would call. The Battalion chief left and shortly after a Sheriff deputy arrived. He asked the lady with her son if they needed any help. She pointed at me and told him that I was animal control and we had things covered. He asked me if I wanted him to call dispatch to have more ACOs respond. I told him that we seemed to have things covered. He said that that was good, because he didn't know anything about horses. He also cleared out a few lookie loos that had parked on JJs ranch and weren't doing anything but standing around.

We got all the horses closest to the fire moved. My husband, was wonderful in handling a yearling colt, an Arabian yearling no less, something he hasn't ever done before. I had the other Arab yearling. And anyone who has worked with "babies" knows they can be a handful and dangerous in normal circumstances. We moved the yearlings into the round pen that had been set up inside of the arena. Another horse was also in the arena. The four other horses we tied to the horse trailer. We assessed if we needed to move any of the other horses. But at this time it looked like the fire wasn't coming much closer. The firefighters were hard at work knocking it back. We could see from where we stood in the arena that the smoke color had changed and it wasn't as thick. We also no longer saw flames licking at JJs pasture fence. Two more horse owners arrived and everyone was checking to make sure that horses were ok. JJ arrived shortly after they did. She had managed to come from across the county and get through all the road blocks they now had set up in 15 minutes.

It was about this time when we all noticed that just to the north of us another huge column of smoke was rising up. Apparently while we were busy with the horses, another fire had started just to the north of us. All we could really do was stand around, checking on the horses, monitoring the progress behind (west) us and watch the progression of the new fire to the north of us.
We could hear sirens all over and according to JJ, they had all the streets blocked off. One of the other owners said that they had evacuations of the area going on. We watched as the second fire grew, spread, and took over more and more of the land. The Fire department also had their helicopter making multiple passes dumping water from the hose dangling down. We couldn't help make a few obscene comments about the helicopter.
We moved the horses that had been tied to the horse trailer and put them in the arena. As we were watering horses we noticed a huge constant flame in the direction of the second fire. Some guy appeared and was running around the ranch saying that it was a propane tank and it was going to blow, run for your lives! Then he disappeared. I looked at my husband and he shook his head. If it was a propane tank, we were at a safe distance. Someone had the good idea to go and close the gates to the ranch to keep people out from that point on. We didn't need any more of that. And we thought with all the Deputies patrolling and the road blocks no one could get in.
We got reports that the fire was close to the local feed store and general store. We could see that it was in that general direction. We were pretty much at the original ground zero.
We watched the helicopter pass over what seemed like a hundred times. The fire appeared to keep moving. We kept seeing black columns rising up as we knew new structures were being consumed by fire.
It seemed like we had been there for hours. In reality it was only a couple of hours from the time we got there until then. I had been on and off the phone with my dispatch and one of my fellow officers, 460. 460 was headed out our direction with supposedly 100 dogs in a kennel in the path of the fire. But she didn't have any further details. I asked her to give me a call and if she needed help I was already right there. Things were pretty much under control at JJs ranch. Horses were all safe and relatively calm for having the copter buzzing low over their heads. Even the fire that had originally started all of this was much calmer. There were still firefighters working on it but now it was more control hot spots time.
We stayed around for a little while longer and continued to watch the activity to our north. It seemed that every time we looked in that direction the fire was getting further away, but still going. It was just crazy.
I talked to 460 again and she and 480 were almost to the area. We said good-bye to JJ and left her ranch. Road block deputies let us through to met up with 460. I had to maneuver around fire trucks and other emergency vehicles. I met up with 460 and 480. They had been told to go to the command center, but were apparently given the wrong directions. So they had to turn around and we all went to the command center. I did get yelled at by a firefighter who was manning a water truck (ok he was standing next to it talking to another firefighter). He was yelling at me to keep moving while I was trying to ask him where the command center was. He stopped yelling when I showed him my ACO badge and pointed to the other trucks behind me. He pointed out the command center, which turned out to be the backyard of the property owner where the fire ORIGINALLY started! Firefighter grumbled something that was I guess suppose to be sort of apologetic and said he thought I was just another lookie loo.
So we got to the command center and found out that we got there for nothing. They apparently didn't know anything about any 100 dogs trapped in kennels. So they didn't need us.
Ok, so my husband and I finally went home and I flopped down in my chair. Now I was going to relax like I said I wanted to do before getting myself into all of that.
Nope. I guess I don't have an Off Switch.

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