This article first appeared in the September 17, 1948 edition of THE “OJAI” on page 9. It is reprinted here with the permission of the “Ojai Valley News”. The author is unknown.
Jack Dron Tells How Crew Stayed In Face of Fire to Save His Home
While examples of heroism in the Ojai fire are numerous and have not been brought to light, one story related to “The Ojai” this week by Maj. Jack Dron is typical of a number of cases where men saved homes through sheer, unwavering courage. Maj. Dron’s account of how his Gridley canyon home was saved is as follows:
“We were sitting around the house about 7 pm waiting for the fire. We had four orchard spray rigs from Santa Paula, two pumps, and two auxiliaries. We had four men from the San Bernardino forest service—Ranger Horace D. Jones, Joseph Austin, Harry Trotter, and Clifford Damon. Then there were Ned Taylor and F. B. Boys from the Los Angeles district, and five fellows from Santa Paula, O. W. Moten, Buck Messenger, C. J. Boyle, Otis R. Parker, and Sherman Kelley, myself and my son, John A. Dron Jr.
“All these men deserve all the credit that can be given them. Along toward evening, Emery Brandt and Ken Williams had been doing some work with a bulldozer nearby. We’d been trying to get more ‘dozers that afternoon without success. Emery came in about dusk and cleared a 60-foot swath through and olive grove on the hill above my house.
“We watched the fire burning slowly down the mountain, expecting it about midnight. We planned to backfire, but about 7:15 pm we noticed numerous spot fires below the fire line, indicating a shift of wind. In 15 minutes these had consolidated into a solid front of flame downhill. It was still about a half a mile above us. We were all prepared. The house had been battened down and sheet metal furnished by Joe Misbeek had been placed over the windows. Every available carpet, pad, and canvas was saturated and laid on the roof. Then about 8 pm we noticed a spot fire on the ridge below us, then one to the right and left of us. Then I ordered by daughter Dorothy and my youngest son Boyd to take a station wagon loaded with our possessions and get out in a hurry. The fires spread so rapidly that in the 10 minutes it took them to finally leave it had advanced almost to Gridley road. A slight panic then occurred. Two auxiliary pumpers pulled out and raced downhill. But the rest of the men stayed. About 8:15 the fire had reached the dense brush around the house and was coming fast. Ranger Jones, lacking any facilities for back-firing, took his crew and set counter fire on the edge of the break above us. Inhalation of smoke and the heat nearly prostrated him. He was vomiting but recovered and got the fire started. Meanwhile, the two remaining pumpers and crew were in action with fog nozzles spraying the surrounding trees and shrubbery. My son and I, using the domestic water supply, were on the roof wetting down the building. The heat finally became so intolerable we were driven off the roof. Only by inhaling fresh air close to the ground could we continue breathing.
“Things began to happen very fast. The dwelling to the rear of the house began smoking as the fire flanking us on the east raced down the canyon. The heat was so intense that we could only face it by wrapping wet towels around our heads and taking turns spraying each other with water to prevent our clothes from catching fire.
“We saw two foxes race across our front lawn and several deer. By that time the flanking fire had encircled the house and was closing in below us. Then the main fire struck the back fire. For five minutes we were surrounded on all sides by towering flames and were in a literal vortex. The pump men concentrated on trees and the outbuilding in front which was smoking, while my son concentrated water on the roof. Just at the crisis, which came about 8:45, our domestic water gave out, discharging black mud. In a few minutes a valve in the main line blew up with a loud report, discharging steam.
“We had provided an auxiliary supply in buckets, tubs and tanks amounting to 150 gallons, and from then on the pumpers directed streams on the house while my son and I put out spot fires and debris with buckets. In 10 minutes the crisis was past and the main front of the fire had advanced downhill hundreds of feet below. Still, a hot wind of 20 or 30 miles per hour was driving a continual cascade of burning embers and sparks against the house. Fortunately the walls were of stone and the windows were protected by the sheet metal coverings.
“In 20 minutes there was nothing left of the surrounding area but innumerable burning dumps and accumulations of leaves. By this time the crew was thoroughly exhausted, but continued to apply water to outbreaks on the outbuildings, which still were in the danger area.
“By 9:30 practically all danger was past and the men were able to take a wel-earned rest on pillows and mattresses in the yard. They stood by until early morning, when it was certain that all danger was past.”