The sense of relief was palpable among residents of the Painted Cave community Thursday afternoon, as firefighters finished building containment lines around the 44-acre Lookout Fire, which had menaced their homes a day before.
“Miracle” was the word used multiple times by Ogram Road resident Marc McGinnes.
“If the wind had been blowing, there would have been deaths,” McGinnes told Noozhawk. “It was right on the edge of the community.”
McGinnes and his wife were out walking along Glenn Road just before 8 a.m. Wednesday, when they spotted the blaze only about 200 yards away. They heard a loud boom as a wall of flame crashed down and rose straight up towards the sky.
McGinnes said it had been windy throughout the previous night, but at that point in the morning, the air was still. That lack of wind, and the brush clearing in the area by the Painted Cave Volunteer Fire Department, were what made the difference, he said.
McGinnes has lived in Painted Cave since 1982, and he recalled clearly the 1990 fire that bears the community’s name. It consumed hundreds of residences, killed one woman, and would have destroyed his home were it not for valiant firefighting efforts.
After a successful water drop, McGinnes recalled, he watched the flames from the Painted Cave Fire retreat from his home and rush down the hill on a fateful path towards the ocean.
“I remember being shocked by the extreme relief I felt,” he said, “but also extreme empathy for those I knew would be affected.”
Alissa Sears, whose family has lived in Painted Cave since 1984, said this week’s fire was the closest call they have ever had.
“What struck me more than anything was the truly remarkable work of our firefighters and community coming together to effectively address a fire that could have so quickly gone out of control,” Sears said. “As challenging as the situation has been for all involved, it has been an incredibly powerful reminder of the important things in life – community, family, and the ability to overcome adversity together.”
On Wednesday, fate smiled again on the Painted Cave community, as it narrowly escaped the Lookout Fire, which threatened some 100 homes, prompted evacuations, and challenged fire crews while scorching the steep terrain above Highway 154.
Afternoon winds that could have whipped the fire into a conflagration never materialized Wednesday night, and no structures were damaged.
The cause of the fire, which broke out about 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, has not been released.
Some 200 firefighters worked throughout the day Thursday, but their numbers dwindled as they finished their shifts, according to Andrew Madsen, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
“We were very successful today,” Madsen told Noozhawk on Thursday afternoon, noting that a containment line had been established around the entire fire perimeter.
Six engines and three hand crews remained on the fire scene Friday, Madsen said, patrolling and mopping up any remaining hot spots.
“A lot of these fires burn really hot, and the fire is going down into the root system,” he said.
Fire crews planned to walk the area with hose packs, dousing burning embers with water to make sure the fire is completely out, he said.
Some engines and crews arrived from across the state to help out early Wednesday evening, but the fire was more under control more than expected, so many left to go home, he said.