My Latest in the McKenzie River Reflections

A Very Close Call

September 30th was the twenty-third day of the rebuilding and recovery effort after the Holiday Farm Fire, and many Mckenzie River residents had been working every day, 12 to 16 hours sometimes, since the fire started, most without a day off. That Wednesday was McKenzie River resident Shaney Howard’s 50th birthday. He and his partner Vanessa East had just served pulled pork and the dozen or so guests were eating and trying to drink their first beer of the day when we noticed the light of a fire illuminating the tree branches on the property next to Shaney’s. We all agreed it was a poor time to burn yard debris. 

The fire grew, and Tyee Burwell went to check it out. A minute later, he yelled that the next door neighbor’s trailer was on fire. Kelly Davis and Elisha Young told the children to get off the trampoline and got them all together. Tyee ran across Hwy 126 and pounded on the front door of the assistant fire chief. I drove to the Upper Mckenzie Fire Department to get help. Within minutes the big yellow Type 1 Fire Engine showed up with a single driver. Tyee Burwell grabbed a nozzle and took off running. I fed him the hose as he ran. Brandon Young grabbed a second nozzle and I fed him hose too. I’ve been on dozens of fires with a Type 6 engine as a wildland firefighter, but I’ve never learned how to charge a line on a structural Type 1 engine. I started pulling levers and pushing buttons. The water cannon on the front started shooting water until I undid what I did. I pulled another lever and the water shot out the back, and I undid that too. Finally, after a bit of fumbling, we had both lines charged. Tyee has fought fires most his life, and Brandon Young is a navy veteran who served time in a submarine. He had thorough training on how to put out a fire. 

Kelly Davis drove down North Bank to let everyone know that there was a fire in McKenzie Bridge and that they may have to evacuate. Many people gathered in the parking lot of the McKenzie General Store and waited. Others sat at the McKenzie Station Pub and had a beer or cocktail and kept a wary eye down the highway.

The Upper McKenzie Fire Department has done such an amazing job over the past few weeks, we know they are tired and many are displaced, so we were happy that we had the fire just about out before Chief Plews and her crew showed up. Tyee Burwell handed off the nozzle and told everyone he was going back to finish his pulled pork sandwich. Vanessa East, the hostess of the party did offer slices of her custard pie before people left. 

The trailer was a total loss, but if the fire had started burning the shop next to it full of fuels, propane, and other explosive material, this could have turned into another very big fire taking another town on our river. The loss of the trailer is very tragic, but at least no one lost their lives or were injured. When we finished our meals and maybe another beer, most of us went home to prepare for day twenty-four of the rebuilding and recovery effort for our community.

By Sean Davis

Sean Davis is the author of The Wax Bullet War, a Purple Heart Iraq War veteran, and the winner of the Legionnaire of the Year Award from the American Legion in 2015 and the recipient of the Emily Gottfried Emerging Leader, Human Rights award for 2016. His stories, essays, and articles have appeared in the the Ted Talk Book The Misfit’s Manifesto (Simon and Schuster), Forest Avenue Press anthology City of Weird, Sixty Minutes, Story Corps, Flaunt Magazine, The Big Smoke, Human the movie, and much more.

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