At Heglin and Smith's house, the fire came into view at 3:00 or 4:00 Wednesday morning. Later that morning, "Our neighbor called," Smith says. "She had already evacuated, and she asked us if John could put things over her vents in her house, so that sparks couldn't get into the crawl space and attic."
"So I covered all the vents," Heglin explains, "so that sparks wouldn't get sucked in, and I made sure all the windows were shut for the same reason."
Late Wednesday afternoon, Smith says, "We were putting stuff over the vents, and we were starting to move firewood away from her house when four fire trucks then showed up. We were sitting up there watching the flames come right at us from the northwest."
Heglin adds, "It was a firestorm, like you hear about. We saw tornadoes of flame, and trees were just exploding as the fire came down the valley toward us from the northwest. At that point, there was not much we felt that we could do. We were just in awe; it was amazing to watch the speed and the intensity of that fire just coming at us. The firemen stood and watched; they watched with us. They said, 'We are not going out there; it is 50- to 60-mile-an-hour winds; it is a firestorm. We can't put it out; there is nothing we can do.' But they staged there to protect our neighbor's house, and we came back here for some final preparations."
Late Wednesday afternoon, the hill of tall, dry grass across the road immediately to the north of Smith and Heglin's house was ablaze. "At the same time," Heglin says, "this whole ridge to the west of us was going up, one tree after another exploding, all the dead pines... There were 300-foot flames up there; it was absolutely unbelievable."
"We were standing in the street with the flames all over the place," Smith recalls. "Some firemen did drive by. John asked them, 'Will you come back and help us?'"
And Heglin continues the story, "They said, 'Don't count on a truck being there.' So we were on our own, which was the mindset we had from the beginning anyway."
So with scuba masks over their eyes and particle masks over their mouths and noses, Heglin and Smith walked around their property stomping out little fires started by golf-ball-sized chunks of burning wood blowing over from the nearby ridge. With shovels and rakes, and with the help of a neighbor who brought out his tractor, Smith and Heglin cut a fire line to keep the grassfire north of their road. The move was successful. Except for windblown ember fires, which they quickly stomped out, the fire never crossed onto their property. By 11:00 p.m. Wednesday, the main event was over. "There were little fires burning all over the place," Smith says, "but they were little ones, and they were lying down for the night."
"But they burned all night," Heglin adds.
Brent Mitchell slept Wednesday night in a chair on the porch of one of his cabins. He, too, could see what looked like "hundreds of campfires" burning all night. Thursday brought cool, damp weather and even a bit of drizzly rain, which helped. Still, Brent says, enough fuel remained to have some "significant flare-ups." Some tree stumps where the fire had been hottest still burned. Smoking holes surrounded by piles of white ash showed where trees had burned to the ground, and the roots were still smoldering. Brent spent Thursday and Friday putting out hot spots and wondering how his house survived. "I did the best I could to protect it," he says, "but there are a lot more reasons why it should have gone up than not."