Wildfire rattles residents in its path
September 1, 2006
Fran Dunn thinks of being covered in sparks, of trying to peer through heavy smoke and ashes, of feeling tremendous heat, and of seeing a roaring wildfire just 200 feet away and charging his way, and he knows one thing for certain.”I never want to be that close to fire again,” he says with solemn certainty in his voice.Dunn’s was one of a couple of close calls he and neighboring residents recalled Friday after the Red Apple Fire raced toward the Spruce Creek Road area a day earlier, destroying a home and three outbuildings and ravaging hundreds of acres of land.They described a fire that suddenly gathered force and made a rapid run to the west, bearing down on the road in a matter of mere minutes.”The sound was just like jet planes, the roar was just amazing,” said Darleen Mackley, who with her husband, Arnold, owns land up Spruce Creek Road and just below it on County Road 320.As the fire neared Spruce Creek Road, Dunn went into the cabin he lives in up the road and found his phone line was dead.”I grabbed a couple of things and came out and this wall of fire was coming right at me,” he said.He took off on a four-wheeler.”I looked back and the fire was going right around my cabin. Boy, was it hot,” he said.The fire somehow spared his cabin, in the middle of a green lawn, he said. It burned a residential gas line serving the cabin, leading to confusion later when authorities mistakenly reported that a Williams Production gas well had burned. None of the 30 or so Williams wells in the area suffered more than minor damage, the company said.The fire burned an outbuilding belonging to Ted Bernklau, who owns the property where Dunn lives.The fire also had come within a couple of feet of a truck Dunn was able to drive away.”I can’t get it out of my mind, I keep going over and over and over it. I just don’t want to ever go through that again,” Dunn said of his experience. The survival of Dunn’s truck may be thanks to Arnold Mackley, who said he stamped the fire by the vehicle with his feet as he was working to save animals and possessions.Mackley had first seen the fire when he was driving home, and it was a small column of smoke in the Porcupine Creek area. By the time he got home, just a mile or two up the road, “it had taken off,” he said.Pushed by winds, it quickly burned a wide swath across the mountainside toward Spruce Creek Road.
Mackley was able to go up the road to his property and move some vehicles and turn his four horses out onto his 160-acre property there. They weren’t found until this morning. Almost all of his acreage burned, but the horses apparently survived in an area of a few hundred yards, he said.A bed-and-breakfast lodge that the Mackleys have built up the road also survived. While they are thankful for that, they are devastated by the incinerated terrain that now surrounds it.”It looks like it’s on the moon now, it’s the only way to describe it,” said the Mackleys’ daughter, Dianne.The Mackleys also lost a garage containing an antique tractor and antique car.But Dianne feels far worse for their neighbors, Rich and Susan Stoakes, who lost their home and several dogs up Spruce Creek Road.And as the Mackleys and Dunn gathered Friday at the Mackley home at the edge of a red slurry line along County Road 320, they were glad just to still have each other. Dianne said she was fearful when her dad went to save the horses.”I thought he was a goner. I didn’t care about the lodge; I wanted him back.”Then, she said, “Like a mirage, he came down the road on a four-wheeler.”Finding something to grin about after their harrowing experience, Mackley confided, “I knew a back way out.”