Grass Fire at Skyridge Elementary

Just beyond the fence

At around 6:30pm on Tuesday, September 18th, halfway through a typical soccer practice at Skyridge Elementary on Perkins Way in Auburn, parents began to notice an exceptionally strong smell of smoke in the air. Peering through the fence, they could see that there was a grass fire just outside of the school’s fence (bordering the garden). While waiting for the fire department to respond, a handful of parents scrambled to use the one hose and a few buckets to hold back the flames and protect the adjacent school building. Once on-site, firefighters quickly took control of the situation and put out the flames.

I was one of those parents. One of the other fathers, Scott Bergenstock, who was fighting the fire with the one hose had already inhaled a good deal of smoke. I relieved him and took my turn, spraying the flames and trying not to breathe in too much of the smoke myself, until to my great delight, a firefighter arrived and shouted at me to “get out of there!”.

It felt like it took forever for the firefighters to arrive. There was a station just down the road from us, so I expected them to arrive at any moment. I found out later that the fire station that was just down the road is not actually an active, manned station. Perception of time is distorted in a situation like this. I estimated it took about fifteen minutes for them to show up, but after checking the timestamps on my photographs, I see that they were actually there within ten minutes, possibly less.

The firefighters truly saved the day and they did respond quickly — especially since they were coming from further away than I had assumed. It was such a relief to see them arrive. They had the fire under control and then put out in no time. The nearest building would have surely been severely damaged and many homes could have been impacted if they had not been so prompt and professional.

I’m just glad we were able to hold it back long enough for the fire department to get there. As far as I know, there was no damage to the school, but the fire did briefly cross the fence into the garden and set ablaze what appeared to be a compost heap of mostly dry grass. Fortunately, we were able to put that out quickly buckets of water.

As exciting as it was to be caught up in the middle of this, I’m looking forward to just sitting and reading at the next practice.

The Auburn Journal accepted three of my photographs, along with my inaccurate estimate of the response time of the firefighters and published an article on the fire in this morning’s paper. I have posted a comment on their article, revising my estimate to “within ten minutes”.

There is a lot of dry grass in this area. It’s quite hot here and fires are our frequent natural disaster. Three years and seventeen days ago, we almost lost our home to a grass fire, when another fire came within a few dozen feet of our apartment building. Photographs of that fire can be seen here on my personal Facebook account

We finally got into a house, a couple of months after that fire, but if it hadn’t been for our neighbors with hoses (and the firefighters, who eventually arrived and took over) we might have lost everything we owned. We were returning from church that Sunday and found the road to our apartments blocked off — people could leave but not enter. I was able to get through, by running through a field on foot. I threw all our photo albums and scrapbooks into our other car, along with our kids backpacks (the first day of school was the following day), and some of our neighbor’s things and drove it out to safety. (Then I may have gone back in with my camera….)