Eyewitness: Choppers “heroes” in saving Arlington Heights homes

By Steve Powell

spowell@arlingtontimes.com

ARLINGTON – Larry Verducci looked at the smoldering hillside and realized just how “very lucky” they were.

“It could have been a whole different scenario,” he said Friday.

Verducci’s home and about two dozen others were threatened by a large brush fire Sept. 14. They were all ordered to evacuate.

But then the “heroes arrived,” he said of helicopters from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Department of Natural Resources.

They dumped buckets of water on the blaze to keep it from spreading to any of the homes. “The calvary arrived,” he said. “If the choppers didn’t come we wouldn’t be sitting here talking right now.”

DNR said they were able to keep the burn to about 3-4 acres because of that quick response. Evacuation orders were lifted about 6 p.m. Investigators are working to determine what caused the fire.

Verducci and his wife, Dennise, were in the back yard Friday afternoon canning carrots for the winter, and they could still smell the smoke. The blaze was put out about 1,500 feet away. He hoped for rain, which was in the forecast. Verducci said they were in the garden around 2 p.m. the day before when they saw clouds moving way too fast. They figured it must be smoke and ran to neighbors’ houses to make sure those weren’t on fire. They then saw billows of smoke coming up the hillside, then actually saw fire.

Soon after, fire departments started to arrive. “They were Johnny on the spot,” Verducci said.

It wasn’t long before they were told to evacuate. “I told my wife to grab stuff that cannot be replaced,” he said.

So she started packing the car with videos and baby pictures.

Verducci then grabbed a garden hose and started spraying down the house, truck and yard.

“It was touch and go,” he said, adding some firefighters told him that the fire was so hot they could hardly stand it.

Progress was made quickly against the blaze once a gate was opened so firefighters had direct access to the blaze. “They could see what they were getting into,” Verducci said.

He added that he was proud of everyone involved in putting out the fire. “Everybody rallied,” he said.

Firefighters said the blaze started on 99th Drive Northeast. Officials ordered about 25 homes east of the fire to evacuate under level 3—the most urgent level—the sheriff’s office reported. The sheriff’s office requested the Department of Emergency Management make reverse 9-1-1 calls to the homes for evacuations.

Helicopters doused the flames with water late into the evening while firefighters stayed on the lookout for hot spots and embers. The last engine left the next morning at about 7:30.

First responders said just because temperatures are cooling, doesn’t mean there isn’t a high fire danger.

“Situations like this where we’ve had so much warm, dry weather, everything moves really fast,” Snohomish County Fire District Chief Chad Schmidt said. “The wind doesn’t help either.”

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