Rescue Party Trapped By Flames
A rescue party encircled by flames. An all-night, one-man crusade to save a house. A water-skier coming home to rubble.
Whether they were just doing their jobs or fighting for their homes, Spokanites played out their roles in countless minidramas on the West Plains on Sunday and Monday. Here are three of them:
‘20 minutes of terror’
The rescuers needed rescuing themselves when two sheriff’s deputies, a state trooper and an ambulance team were trapped Sunday by flames in a residential area west of Riverside State Park.
“It was 20 minutes of terror,” said sheriff’s Lt. David Wiyrick.
They were caught trying to evacuate about 20 people who live near Wigwam and Tepee roads. “Our people were evacuating as quick as we could. … The (fire) was just jumping, jumping, jumping,” Wiyrick said.
Deputy Eric Epperson and reserve deputy Will Long suddenly found themselves surrounded by the fire.
Someone radioed for help. When an aircraft came to dump fire retardant and water, the deputies used the flashing lights on their patrol cars to signal the pilot.
Deputy Mike Kittilstved was parked down the road out of harm’s way. He sounded his siren so the others could find their way out.
After the flames were beaten back by the aerial bombardment, rescuers and residents formed a 15-vehicle convoy. A sheriff’s car was in front; a state patrol car brought up the rear.
But it wasn’t over yet.
The group encountered a woman driving her four-wheel-drive vehicle in the direction of the blaze. She told deputies her husband was caught in the fire zone. Kittilstved and another rescue worker borrowed her vehicle and went back into the flames. After bringing the man out unharmed, they made a second run to rescue a stranded child.
“They were scrambling,” Wiyrick said. “It was a pretty stressful situation … They acted professionally and courageously.”
Up all night
Franklin Crawford hiked about three miles through smoky woods Sunday, from Christensen Road to his home at the end of Whispering Pines.
The retired Air Force firefighter arrived at 4:30 p.m. to see flames about 15 feet from his home. He donned his old firefighting uniform.
All night, after neighbors had been evacuated and the fire had moved through Deep Creek Canyon, Crawford fought with a shovel and water.
He’d tackle trouble spots and then go inside, setting a timer for 15 or 30 minutes in case he fell asleep. Then he’d go back outside to stomp out dangerous flames.
Crawford, 42, saved his home, losing only a work trailer and a boat. He credited fire prevention efforts, like trimming branches and letting neighbors’ horses chew down his grass.
“With things as dry as they are, this time of year it’s a match waiting to go off,” said Crawford, whose wife returned home Monday morning.
Crawford’s new line of work is selling fire and security systems. He sipped coffee, sitting on a blackened rock in his front yard late Monday morning.
“I haven’t been to bed yet,” he said. “Now you know why I’m working on my third pot of coffee.”
“The memories are here”
Jeff Enbody was riding water skis and inner tubes on the Pend Oreille River when his house burned to the ground.
The 43-year-old truck driver got the bad news Monday morning when he drove home to the 5000 block of North Gordon Road. He lost a mobile home and two cars. Aluminum wheels melted into puddles.
“When I heard about it, my house was probably already gone,” Enbody said.
He tried to return home Sunday, but was blocked by authorities on Rambo Road. He stayed overnight with a friend in north Spokane - the same apartment he’ll stay in until he gets on his feet.
“I’m going from 43 acres to an apartment,” Enbody said.
He lost his clothes, furniture and some mementos. He still has a truck, a few T-shirts, some underwear and some socks. On Monday afternoon, he filled out paperwork at the American Red Cross shelter.
Enbody shrugged when asked about his feelings.
“Nobody died. No animals died. The mementos may be gone, but the memories are here,” he said, tapping his head.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo Graphic: Other blazes