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Tuesday, September 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

‘This is how they handle fires’: Farmers aid fire crews in effort to save Douglas County town of Mansfield

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 8, 2020

Elementary school teacher Jesse Freels makes a call Tuesday as the Pearl Hill Fire moves close to town near Mansfield, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Elementary school teacher Jesse Freels makes a call Tuesday as the Pearl Hill Fire moves close to town near Mansfield, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

MANSFIELD, Washington – As fire crept within a few thousand yards of the town here Tuesday morning, sirens went off, warning residents of the approaching flames.

Some sent their kids out of the danger zone while others took a more leisurely approach.

Retiree Tammy DeLozier had a garden hose in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other as she attempted to thwart the flames.

“The hard part is it’s cedar, my whole house is cedar,” DeLozier said with a cackle.

DeLozier has lived in the town of about 300 people with her husband for the past 22 years just “doing whatever we want.”

While fires have threatened the area before, the Pearl Hill Fire is the closest.

“We are worried,” DeLozier said. “I have my photo albums and everything ready.”

If they absolutely have to evacuate, DeLozier said they probably won’t go to far. .

“We’ll just go up to the school I guess. Everybody says go up there,” she said. “And we’ll just go away from the fire.”

Mansfield was under a Level 3 evacuation, meaning residents were urged to leave immediately on Monday morning after the Cold Creek fire in Omak moved down, hopped the Columbia River and became the Pearl Hill Fire.

Despite a Level 3 evacuation, residents were unable to leave due to low visibility caused by smoke and dust, so many stayed in their homes or got on their tractors to cut fire lines around nearby buildings.

Kirstil Heath, who lives just out of town, said she evacuated at about noon Monday with no visibility and barely made it into Mansfield.

The town lost power midday Monday and regained power before dawn on Tuesday. After a sleepless night at a friend’s house drinking coffee brewed on the barbecue, she went out to check on her house Tuesday morning.

It was still standing with a fire line around it.

Dawn Ericson-Allen lost her Pateros home in the Carlton Complex fire five years ago. Since then, she moved to Mansfield with her now-husband.

Their July wedding barely happened as another wildfire threatening the area.

“We evacuated like four days before my wedding,” she said.

Luckily, the fire was contained and the wedding went off without a hitch. Now, two months later, fire is again threatening her home.

Her father-in-law, Rick Allen, retired to Belize but came back for the wedding. He’s been stuck in Washington for the past two months due to COVID-19 border closures.

Allen had an apple orchard in Bridgeport before he moved away. On Tuesday, he drove over to check on his ex-wife and her family, who still live in the area .

They lost their home near the orchard and a second home on the outskirts of Bridgeport.

“Bridgeport is OK, with the exception of the family orchard and there’s some lost houses on the east end of town, including my ex-mother-in-law’s house,” Allen said.

Allen said his main worry has been his son and daughter-in-law losing their house. But having survived it once, Allen is sure they could handle it again.

Fortunately, local farmers had hopped on their equipment and begun creating fire lines around Mansfield.

“This is how they handle fires, rural farmers control it here,” Allen said. “Farmers get in their equipment and till the ground so they have a fire line to low it down.”

Neighbor Brad Little said emergencies like this always bring the town together.

“Everybody knows everybody out here. Even if you don’t like somebody, you talk to them – you tolerate them,” Little said. “Then, when something like this happens, all that goes out the window and everybody works together. All the fire breaks around here have been done by farmers. I don’t know where we would be without the farmers.”

In a town like Mansfield, Little said most people either work at the school or farm.

“They’re either farmers or they work at the school. Those are pretty much your only options,” Little said. “Being out here, you’re kind of limited, because in the winter it gets kind of rough out here.”

Little works at Jamison Lake, an area popular with fishermen.

The big thing that worried Little on Tuesday was a fire approaching the town’s grain silos and fuel pumps, which are next to each other. The dust in the grain silos is highly flammable, he said.

“If either of those go off, this town is toast,” Little said.

Elementary school teacher Jesse Freels lives near the silos. He sent his children out of town Tuesday morning and headed into Chelan for supplies.

“When I left town this morning things were looking OK, but when I got back it was blowing up again,” Freels said. “I’m thinking about putting sprinklers on the house, but I don’t know what good that’s going to do.”

As of noon Tuesday the winds shifted, pushing the fire away from town, with Douglas County Fire crews working alongside local farmers to protect the community.

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