FIRE DEPARTMENT’S HANDLING OF TREE FIRE GARNERS THANKS — October 2013

By Ana Marasa

It was the Sunday evening before Labor Day. It was late in the day and I was just finishing the last strokes of paint on the shutters and we’d completed staining the front of the house. We heard turkeys gobbling in the distance, as if they were warning us that something was about to happen. I could hear the thunder and lighting from afar. It got very dark and started pouring. I have never seen it rain that hard.

We went downstairs and all of a sudden we heard an explosion. It was so loud that the house shook. When the rain stopped we walked around the house to see where the lighting struck. We didn’t see anything. We started taking pictures of the newly stained house. Then my partner said, “There’s smoke coming out of the one of the trees!”. This was the biggest tree on the mountain. We didn’t pay much attention to it because it started out as a little bit of smoke.

PHOTO tree fire 02About 15 minutes later we noticed flames coming out of the bottom of the tree. My first thought was to call the fire department, but our phone wasn’t working. I screamed, “Call the fire department!” My partner drove over to the neighbor’s house across the street but no one was home. So he came back to the house. By this time I was yelling “GET HELP!” The flames were coming out of four holes in the tree. I was standing there with a garden hose trying to put the flames out.

My partner then went to our neighbor John Hopkins’s house down the road and called 911.The police called the Andes Fire Department. As my partner was driving back from John Hopkins’s house, he could see the smoke over the trees. Later he would tell me that it looked like the woods were on fire.

I started to give up on the garden hose. The flames on the tree were getting too big. I went into the house, held my head and paced back and forth. I prayed to God. I heard a voice in my head say, “Don’t give up.” I went back out on the deck and aimed the hose at one of the holes at the top of the tree where the flames were coming out. Three flaming branches fell on the ground. I kept wetting them with the garden hose to keep the woods from going on fire. Needless to say, there’s a 500-gallon propane tank and a pine tree about 30 feet away.

The fire trucks finally arrived. Waiting for them seemed like an eternity. It didn’t take them long to get there. The fire house is approximately 7 miles away.

As I was standing there with the garden hose, fire chief Joe Berghammer came walking around the back of the house. He had no idea how bad the fire was. They thought it was just a small tree. When he saw the flames he yelled to his crew, “Get the fire hose!” He kept yelling to spray the flames directly on the tree so they would have enough water. The first fireman couldn’t hold the hose firmly enough, so a second fireman (Cody Ruff) had to help.

Unfortunately my health has not been good this year, so I had to go in the house. I prayed by my window. I saw the third fireman (David Ruff) climb up a burning tree with the fire hose while wasps and hornets were shooting out all around him. He had to go up a second time with a fire extinguisher. I could swear that God was holding him up. He had no fear as he climbed the ladder several times. At one point he climbed the ladder and tied a rope to the biggest branch where the flames were coming out earlier, so it would fall away from the house. Now I understand why the ambulance was there. Eventually another part of the tree came crashing down on the deck. The branch was huge. It bounced off the deck and landed on the ground. The noise was so loud that a lady from the ambulance came over to see if everyone was OK. There were a lot people and cars on the top of the hill looking down. I guess they were afraid to come down because of the 500 gallon propane tank that was close to the burning tree.

The firemen thought the fire was under control but the flames started again.

It took four hours to put the fire out. Every time they thought they had it under control, it flared up again.

I would just like to thank all of the members of the Fire Department in Andes. They are a fine crew and they work together well. The Town of Andes should be very proud of their fire department. I know I am. God is great! And so God sent the rain and a crew of angels. ~