Residents fend off flames near their homes with garden hoses
August 9, 2001
By Robin Franzen, The Oregonian
Some quick-acting residents on North Willamette Boulevard count themselves lucky that they escaped the fire's fury Wednesday evening.
At 6 p.m. Greg Babcock was working on some chores in his home office when a neighbor vigorously knocked on the door of his house in the 6800 block of North Willamette Boulevard and told him fire was racing toward them.
He loaded his car with some clothes and photo equipment, things that would be hard to replace, and then set to work.
"I went to the back of the house and started hosing everything down," he said. "It was three blocks away, but it was rushing on down really fast. By the time it got to my deck, the firefighters were there just barely in time.
"I thought it was gone."
But the only casualty was the vinyl siding, melted by the heat of the flames.
Down the block, Grant Dixon was watching TV when he saw the sun go dark on a clear day. Not knowing what to think, he flipped the television to the news and heard about the fire.
He went outside and saw two large blazes, one on each side of his house.
"When I saw it, it was moving so fast," he said. "It just swept this way."
He moved important things into his car -- including a TV and a snowboard -- just to be sure and began spraying down the house, which he shares with his wife, 2-year-old daughter and roommate Joseph Oper.
Flames raced right up to his back patio.
"It was definitely surreal," he said. "I thought it definitely can't get over here. Then it got closer and closer, and then it was here."
Firefighters arrived with hoses and began spraying down the hillside from his patio.
Hours later, all that remained were an acrid smell of smoke and the charred remains of the hillside where blackberries once thrived, leaving a clear view of the railroad tracks below.
"You can see how it swept up from here," he said.
A block away, Bill Lowe was still in disbelief.
Flames that scorched the hillside below his house in the 6700 block of North Willamette Boulevard also torched the stairs to his deck, coming much too close for comfort to the house where he and wife, Cheryl, have lived since 1994.
"I thought we'd lost the house, I thought we'd lost the house," he said over and over.
Lowe, who does background checks for the federal government, was working on his laptop at home when he saw smoke come across the horizon. At first he thought it was from a steam engine that regularly travels the train tracks below, but he kept seeing smoke and headed outside.
He woke up his next-door neighbor, and they quickly started hosing down the flaming hillside below until the flames became too much.
"At one point it got so hot we had to drop our hoses and leave," Lowe said. "If we hadn't done that, I think we would have lost it."
They had hosed down the hillside for about an hour when firefighters showed up in the nick of time and put out the blaze before it reached the houses.
As he recounted his dramatic evening, his wife pulled up and saw the damage. They hugged in relief.
To a passing firefighter, Lowe called out: "Hey, thanks. You saved my house."