Firefighter escapes burning water tender near Chowchilla

MADERA COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- A firefighter is lucky to be alive after his truck was destroyed by a grass fire just outside the city of Chowchilla. The now-contained fire happened just after 2 p.m. Saturday near Road 16 and Avenue 24. The fire quickly grew out of control, engulfing five acres and a water tender in its path.

"The fire came at him from the rear where the bamboo is overgrown and burned toward the truck, got to the rear of the truck and then the water truck got stuck in the sand," said Chowchilla Fire Chief Harry Turner.

The firefighter narrowly escaped the flames after climbing out of the now-incinerated driver's side of the truck. Officials and bystanders alike say the sandy and dry terrain made the firefight challenging. "Another truck got stuck right by the house, and a tow truck came over to pull him out of the way," said Arnaldo Rua, a neighbor.

Even the tow truck had a hard time getting the water tender out of the area. Fire crews say the truck is a total loss. "Talking with the city of Chowchilla fire chief he estimates the value of this piece of equipment at about $100,000. But this is the city of Chowchilla's only water tender so it will need to be replaced, and the replacement will be considerably more," said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn.

But Turner says this truck may not ever be replaced. He said, "With our budgets being what they are there's no money in the budget to replace that water truck, and we are trying to actually replace a fire engine, so the fire engine is going to take precedence over the water truck."

The city of Chowchilla mainly relies on fire hydrants, so Turner says he's not concerned about city fires. However, Madera County and other allied resources depended on this water tender for help, and that's one less truck to fight flames.

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