SPOKANE, Wash. – Sunday marks 25 years since first responders were dealing with a firestorm.
In 1991, nearly 100 wind-driven wildfires tore through eastern Washington, burning nearly 100 homes. It was firefighters like Co-Captain Rolly Johnson that worked to battle the most devastating fire of its time. John was just starting out as a volunteer firefighter during that time.
"I was very new with the fire district. I was brand new," said Johnson. "I think the most vivid memory I have is standing by a structure waiting for the fire to get to us, which didn't take very long."
Johnson had not seen anything like it. There were 92 separate fast moving wildfires that would destroy 114 homes and burn 35,000 acres of land. Johnson said he was at work when it all started.
"I was so naive then that I didn't even know what was going on. I remember calling the up to our district office saying. I understand we got a fire. They were like, ‘Oh yeah, we got a fire alright,’" Johnson explained.
The department needed all the help it could get and the fires were moving fast. That is when the rookie had to make the tough decision of what homes were safe to rescue and what homes were not.
"I remember having to make those choices, but then to turn around after making the decision not to save a particular structure and to look around in our rearview mirror or just turn around. Within minutes, they were just ablaze," said Johnson.
This firestorm demonstrated the hazards that come with more residents in wildlands. The following year the Washington State Legislature passed a law expanding resources during large fires, which included the National Guard.