Far away fires put local lives on hold | VailDaily.com

Far away fires put local lives on hold

Steve Lynn
Vail, CO Colorado
Al Seib/Los Angeles TimesA crew from the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District just returned from the Santiago Fire, shown here burning in Orange County, Calif., Oct. 24.

EAGLE COUNTY ” A friend of local firefighter Chris Blankenship’s could have died from liver and kidney failure at any time as he guarded a power grid against the Santiago Wildland Fire.

Deputy Chief Chris Blankenship’s close friend, Patsy, had 48 hours to live, his younger brother Mike Blankenship told him the night before Chris Blankenship left the valley for Chino, Calif.

“We’ve known Patsy since I was I think 12,” Mike Blankenship said. “Half our lives, he’s known her.”

Chris Blankenship would’ve returned to Petersburg, Va., to see Patsy, Mike Blankenship said, but with so many lives at stake in California, Chris’s strong sense of duty carried him forward.

“I’m sure he went out there with a heavy heart,” Mike Blankenship said.

Chris Blankenship was one of three firefighters from the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District fighting the fire near Irvine, Calif., southeast of Los Angeles.

The crew returned to Eagle Friday morning because Firefighter Clayton Forsyth developed a respiratory infection from the smoke, Greater Eagle Fire Chief Jon Asper said.

“You can’t do much with a sick crew,” Asper said.

The Santiago Fire was 90 percent contained Friday morning after burning 28,400 acres. The fire is expected to be contained by Sunday. The fire has burned down several homes, Chris Blankenship said.

Firefighters who stayed in Eagle County were working longer hours than normal, firefighters said.

“They’re taking personal time out of their lives for us to be up here,” Chris Blankenship said. “We definitely can’t do it without everybody’s support.”

Greater Eagle firefighters had been sitting between the power grid and a fire raging on a ridge about a half-mile away for three days as of Tuesday night. The grid supplies power for Irvine, Calif.

“It’s pretty amazing that we’re out here close to the ocean fighting fire,” Forsyth said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “It’s pretty.”

Four firefighters from the Eagle River Fire Protection District left for California in a fire engine Oct. 25 and are camping outside a helicopter base north of San Diego, Eagle River Fire Lt. Jodi Pratt said. They stand watch more than nine hours each day in case a helicopter crashes, she said.

As many as 10 helicopters at one time land at the base to gather water to drop on the Poomacha Wildland Fire, north of San Diego, and to bring supplies to firefighters, she said. The fire was 85 percent contained Friday after burning 50,156 acres.

“We all miss being home,” Pratt said. “We all miss the comfort of our homes and beds, but it’s pretty awesome out here too.”

The cause of the Poomacha Fire is being investigated. The Santiago Fire was started by people.

During large fires, local resources tire and reinforcements are needed from other departments. Local firefighters have driven their fire engines and trucks to Florida, Louisiana, Montana and Louisiana on such “resource assignments” and often work 16-hour days for as many as 14 consecutive days.

Chris Garvin, mother of Greater Eagle Firefighter Brian Garvin, worries about her son sometimes.

“I always take into consideration the dangers of the job and what I would do if I lose him,” she said. “I guess that comes with the territory.”

She normally talks to her son several times a week. When he travels out of state to an emergency, she worries that he’ll run into bad weather, have car trouble or other problems, she said.

“I know that he can’t usually call, so those are usually longer periods where we go without talking,” she said.

Chris Garvin rests easier knowing that her son works with well-trained, good people, she said.

“It’s kind of nice to know that they have a good family type of feeling with each other,” she said.

And she’s happy her son chose firefighting as a career and that he loves his work, she said.

“We want to be here,” 20-year-old Brian Garvin said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “If we didn’t want to be here we wouldn’t be in the profession we’re in.”

Chris Blankenship’s friend Patsy was still alive Friday evening.

“I’m hoping that she came through and is going to be all right,” Chris Blankenship said.

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.

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