Family helps douse first large fire of the season

Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2007

FAIRBANKS - A Fairbanks area family is being credited for putting out the first large Interior fire of the season.

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Rick Wells and his family helped stomp the fire that started Sunday at a shed behind their auto shop at Mile 11 of Chena Hot Springs Road.

Wells was at an auction with his girlfriend, Helen Kennedy, and her son, Kit Kennedy, when they got a call about 4:30 p.m. from Wells' uncle notifying him about the fire behind Leroy's Truck and Tractor.

Wells worried the fire had hit the main shop, which is partly made of wood and sits near a row of diesel pumps. The insulated shed, however, was about 100 feet from the shop in a dry field flanked by a forest on one side and stacks of wood and tires on the other.

By the time Wells arrived, the fire had engulfed the structure and was crawling along the property toward more flammable items nearby.

Wells' uncle hopped on one of the smaller front-end loaders to clear the area around the fire. But a larger loader wouldn't budge until Wells jump started it. Someone else got on a third loader and the team cleared the area, and covered the fire in dirt and mud.

Helen Kennedy said they learned the technique from their daily work, which sometimes includes clearing properties by burning old houses or sheds too cumbersome or old to move.

Fire crews from the state Department of Forestry on patrol noticed the smoke and stopped to help. The property sits outside the fire protection area, however, and crews could only work to ensure the fire didn't spread to the nearby forest.

A 6-inch piece of sheet metal, blown from a drive line on one of the trucks near the shed, shot into the air, and a gathering crowd yelled at each other to get out of the way as the shard landed in a pile of rusty metal parts. Kit Kennedy ripped off his T-shirt to grab the hot metal before it started a secondary fire.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

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