(9-5-20) Former Niles resident Pat Kelly survived a recent California wild fire, that completely destroyed his home and his past memories of his wife Debbie (Dowling), who passed away just two years ago.

NY Post story 9-1-2020 A Vow of Silence, a Cabin in the Woods,
a Terrible Wildfire

from the Post story One of Mr. Jones’s (Pat Kelly) neighbors survived the fire by submerging himself in his backyard pond.

Kelly’s pond

This is Pat’s recollection of the incident that was shared on Facebook today –

Thank you for your article on our community. I am the person who avoided certain death by diving into my pond and breathing through a tube as the firestorm swept over me. I was only totally submerged for twenty minutes, but when I came up I had a ringside seat to watch two homes and 6 out buildings burn to the ground, totally destroying what had taken me 43 years to build.

Earlier that day, I had heard that a freak lightning storm had ignited a 5-acre blaze near the coast near Waddell Beach. I drove down to see for myself. Fire was a huge worry for me since my insurance company had cancelled us after the nearby Lockheed Fire in 2009. My late wife tried every insurance company we could think of to no avail. They deemed us too big of a risk. This prompted me to install a 30,000 gallon pond and 20,000 gallons of water storage in tanks. I bought a fire pump and regulation fire hoses. I could have had ten times that amount and it would have done me no good against the wall of flame that engulfed me.

When I got to the coast, I approached some firemen to ask the status of the fire. They said it had grown to ten acres but did not seem that worried. I went home thinking that it was no big deal. It was about five miles away so I went about my business. At ten o’clock that night I was bushed so I prepared for bed. Just then I got a call from a neighbor telling me that the fire had jumped Waddell Creek and was heading directly for me. I went outside to see and could see no flames, but I did see an ominous red glow. That is when I got the woefully late evacuation notice phone call from CalFire. I raced down the road to see if evacuation was even a possibility. It was then that I saw the flames and realized I was trapped. If I had gone farther, I would have met the same fate as Tad. I retreated to my house and prepared to do whatever I could to save my property.

As the fire licked up over the next ridge from my property, I knew I was in big trouble. The roar sounded like a hundred 747’s and it was punctuated by what sounded like bombs going off, which turned out to be propane tanks exploding. The fire picked up an incredible intensity and the wind grew to gale force. I was surrounded by flying chunks of embers that, when they landed, immediately started fires.

Last Chance Road

I went into my bedroom and that is when all the windows in the house blew out from the heat, allowing the flying embers to enter. It was then that I knew it was over, and ran as fast as I could through the searing heat towards my pond. An ember hit me directly in my hair and caught it on fire just as I stooped to grab the pipe I had prepared to use as a makeshift snorkel. I went under the water just as the wall of flame went over me.

After what seemed like an eternity, I came up to see that all that was left of my dream house was the skeleton. I watched as it collapsed into the basement. I had put a ten foot rowboat in my pond, and used it as a shield between my head and the fire. I am convinced the boat kept my head from frying. I would estimate that I was in the pond for at least three hours before I got out and sought cover behind a berm that gave me some protection.

I dozed off from sheer exhaustion and when I woke up realized I had been left for dead. I set off on the eight mile hike down to Highway 1. I did not have a flashlight and about a quarter mile down the road fell into a 6 foot deep hole. I went back to my property and discovered a solar powered spotlight that I had just purchased was still lit. I used it to navigate over and under the trees that had fallen across the road and that were still burning.

By the time I got to Last Chance Road it was finally starting to get light. I yelled as loud as I could “Hello!” and to my surprise a ghost like figure appeared from a cloud of smoke. It was a gentleman named Jason, who had spent the night running from side to side in the only meadow, trying to stay as far away from the flames as he could. He told me his beloved bunny had died in his arms. We set out together towards civilization through a surreal landscape of trees showering sparks and choking smoke.

About three miles down the road Jason bent over to pick up a piece of metal. He turned it over and on the other side was the sign of the Phoenix. I was doing my best to put one foot in front of the other, knowing if I didn’t it would be over. Jason, who was at least 30 years younger, went on ahead.

I finally made it to the paved part of the road and saw a Cal Fire truck racing towards me. The driver told me that Jason had sent him to look for me. He gave me a ride to Davenport, where I had friends. When she saw me, she said I looked like I had been through hell.

I had.

Pat Kelly