Saturday, April 16, 2016

Valley Fire Survivor

This is our local karate instructor and all around great guy. 
Here is his incredible story of his flight thru the flames!

Dear Ford,

Here is a picture of my burned up 1993 F250!

On September 12th, I was getting some work done inside the house when my neighbor came over and asked for help. She said that there was a fire coming and she needed to evacuate her animals. I walked over to her property with my puppy, Moose, and I saw that the fire was coming quickly. I realized that we did not have enough time to evacuate her animals. Instead, we moved them to a field that had been eaten down to the dirt by her goats and alpacas. I told her that we needed to leave, but she said that she was going to stay with her animals. I told her that she should stay low in the midde of the field. The fire would go around her and the smoke would go over.

Moose and I started back towards my home. The fire was only 100 yards away and was burning quickly through a field. The wall of flame was taller than me. I picked up Moose and ran towards my home as fast as I could. I could feel the hot embers hitting me as the wall of fire approached. I knew I didn't have enough time to make it home. My truck was closer so I tried to make it there. I usually leave my keys in the truck, but my fiancée, Rachel drove it last and she normally hangs they keys in the kitchen. Thankfully, she left them in the truck. I jumped in the truck, started it, and rolled up the windows. As soon as the windows rolled up, the wall of fire hit and shook my truck.

The truck was surrounded by fire. The flames were licking the windows. The cab started to fill with smoke. My eyes and lungs were burning. I couldn't see anything, but knew I had to act or I was going to die. I had backed the truck out of the driveway a thousand times. I knew I could do it without looking. I punched the throttle and felt the truck break through the gate.

I thought that I had the truck directed down the side road towards the main road. The smoke was thick and I couldn't see very far from me. I put the truck into drive and started down the road. I was a bit off course and ended up smashing into a tree. The front-right side of the truck was badly damaged. At first, I couldn't get the truck loose from the tree. I tried reverse the second time and broke free.

I was able to make it to the main road. The crash had damaged the front end of the truck so badly that the passenger wheel was wobbling and rubbing loudly against the wheel well. I could see a little better as the fire had already passed through this part of the neighborhood. There were trees lining each side of the road. The trees were dropping basketball sized fireballs onto the road. The electric lines above were arcing off of each other. The scene was like something from a movie!

I made it to the highway. Both sides of the highway were burned. I knew that I couldn't go far with the tire rubbing against the wheel well. I made for the closest town. Middletown was about 3 miles away. I knew that if I could make it to Middletown that I would be safe.

Moose and I crawled along the highway for about a mile. I could see my home and the neighbors' homes burning in the distance. Blocking the highway was a wall of flame. I didn't know what to do. I was stuck. A car pulled up behind me. It was on fire. I backed the truck up next to the burning car and told them to get in. The woman, her daughter and their two dogs jumped into the truck. I didn't want to be next to a burning car if it exploded, so I turned the truck around and started in the other direction for Lower Lake - almost 15 miles away.

We didn't make it far. We drove as far as the gas station a mile and a half up the road. There were downed power lines across the road. Six fire trucks were protecting the gas station. Propane tanks were blowing up on each side of the highway. I saw one of the fire trucks leave the gas station in a hurry. I didn't want to be anywhere near the station if it blew up. We had no other option than to go back toward Middletown, the burning car, and the wall of flame.

We made it back to the burning car. The flames that had blocked the highway were starting to die down. However, the right front tire had completely given out and I was driving on a flat. Just then, the front of my truck burst into flames. The bed of the truck was on fire as well. We had to leave the truck. Luckily, an elderly couple pulled up behind us in their minivan. We all got into their car. The first words out of his mouth were ,"Do you know your truck is on fire?"

The elderly man driving the car ended up being Grandpa Leadfoot. He floored it and was driving through the smoke and the fire so fast that I thought we would die from the driving instead of the fire. He used the rumblestrip on the middle of the road to figure out where he was going when the smoke got too bad to see - driving by braille! Turns out he used to be a fire fighter! It seemed like an eternity, but he made it through the fire. I got out at Middletown. I went by foot with Moose to check on family before having to flee the county entirely.

In all, the Valley Fire burned more than 1900 homes and took 5 lives. If it weren't for the Ford F250 being as tough as it is ... I think the fire would have claimed at least one more. Thank you so much for making really tough trucks. I don't think I would be alive if it were anything else.

Dan Tyrrell
Middletown, CA
Valley Fire Survivor

Rachel said that I needed to let everyone know that my neighbor Karen survived the fire just fine. She and her husband Jack are so wonderful.
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