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Running toward the flames

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- On a very hot and dry day Staff Sgt. Amber Powell, 21st Space Wing Detachment 1 instructor upgraded early warning radar instructor, headed home, hoping to cool off after a day’s work. But, events would heat up before she got anywhere near home.

Powell, along with other Beale Air Force Base Airmen, helped warn and evacuate residents when flames threatened two homes and outlying buildings July 24, 2017. The group then assisted local police and fire crews in saving one home and evacuating pets.

Leaving through the Vasser Lake gate, Powell noticed black smoke and flames about 300 yards away. Continuing over a rise, she realized there was no way the fire could be under control. She turned her vehicle around and saw there was a house in the path of the flames. That is when she leaped into action.

“I am absolutely glad I did it, no doubt about that,” Powell said. “I was at the right place at the right time and made the right decision. It was obvious people needed help. There was no real decision to make… I just went into action.”

Powell rushed to the neighbor’s home, the one in the path of the flames, and met another Airman. While he called 9-1-1, Powell knocked on the door. The other Airman joined in, but the residents did not answer their door.

That’s when they did something most people would not; they ran towards the fire.

“We had to jump a couple of fences because the gates were locked,” Powell said. “We ran towards where the fire was.”

They reached the home on the burning property, immediately went to the front and met the female resident of the home coming out. After assuring nobody else was inside, they started looking for other ways to help.

“We noticed there were some dogs in the back and saw fire catching in the backyard,” she said. “There were about eight big dogs in there, but the gate was locked.”

The fire department was on the scene within about 10 minutes, said Powell, so she went to them for something to put out the backyard flames. The water canister they received was used up quickly and didn’t make much headway fighting the encroaching fire.

They managed to get the gates unlocked and move the dogs, some by walking while others were carried to a nearby horse trailer. The male resident drove the trailer away from the property and the spreading flames.

“Then somebody said something about puppies at the place where the fire started,” said Powell.

She and the other Airman went to rescue the puppies, about 10 of them, and met up with three officers from Beale who were working to combat the blaze from the other side of the location. By this time a group of neighbors arrived and between them and the Airmen the puppies were rescued. But there was more.

The porch of the home started catching fire, so Powell and the other Airmen began to fight those flames. They sprayed the roof with a garden hose and attempted to break off the weaker, plywood porch section from the home.

With that fire quenched, there was still more to be done and Powell and the others were up to the task.

“This is where all of us in the military got together and we could talk,” she said.

They went toward smaller fires with shovels and, along with the local firefighters, gained control of the situation. Because of the quick thinking of Powell and the others there were no serious injuries.

“I had some mild smoke inhalation and an EMT said I would have a cough for a few days,” she said. “I didn’t need any treatment. I came out pretty much unscathed.”

Powell gave credit to her Air Force training as the factor that caused her to move quickly to assist in the situation.

“It had to have come from my Air Force training,” she said. “I am not a big fan of fire. You just go and do what needs to be done.”

The Yuba County Sherriff Department is investigating the cause of the fire.

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