Jesusita fire: Engine crew takes refuge in house

From the AP:

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Battalion Chief Scott Smith’s yellow jacket reeked of wood smoke and his eyes were red with exhaustion at the Emergency Operations Center.

Earlier, one of his crews nearly lost its engine to the flames and Smith fetched them out of a burning home where they had taken shelter Wednesday amid a wildfire near Santa Barbara that had charred 500 acres and driven thousands from their homes.

“The fire front came up the hill fast and got in front of the engine,” which was backed into a driveway at the end of a narrow street, said Smith, a firefighter for 30 years who plans to retire next year.

The four-man crew on the engine — No. 70 out of Malibu — were wetting down a home when they ran out of water, he said. They had no time to hook up to a hydrant down the street as the flames fast approached so the men took shelter in the home’s garage, which Smith said is a standard procedure. When it got too hot in the garage, they moved inside the house.

“They were safe in there for a certain amount of time,” Smith said.

Once the bulk of the fire had passed, Smith and another firefighter went up the hill to get them out.

“When I got there the side of the garage was on fire,” Smith said.

Smith fetched his crew out of the home and they struggled to connect the engine to a water line.

“Heat and smoke had killed the engine and we had to cool it down and restart it,” he said.

“By the time we got done with the engine, the house was already too far gone.”

In the blur of the moment, the 54-year-old firefighter didn’t notice anything about the home, or even which street he was on, because his sport utility vehicle’s GPS didn’t report it.

“No one got hurt, just a little dirty,” he said, spreading his hands as if to demonstrate that he still had all ten dusty fingers. One of the firefighters felt sick because of dehydration, was treated at a hospital and later returned to work.

Engine 70 made it down the hill back to headquarters on its own power. But it was streaked with soot and smoke and its plastic signals had melted slightly in the heat.

“It was either the guys or the house,” Smith said, “and with me it’s always my guys.”