Tony Boyd took a well-deserved nap Friday after helping save seven homes in the Omak countryside—and losing one he rented, containing many of his family’s belongings. On the outside of a home on Dutch Anderson Road, he slept—awaking to the sound of barking, a warning signal. He got up to see black smoke engulfing his vehicle. Boyd turned around to see a lively fire that had jumped into a woodpile near the home, and rushed to put it out. He began to wet the corner of the house that was smoking and hurried to a field with the only shovel remaining—a snow shovel.
The rest of the Dutch Anderson Hot Shot Fire Crew arrived to save one final home, after a long day fighting the Tunk Block Fire, part of the state-record Okanogan Complex, last listed at 280,000 acres.
Barkley, his dog, saved the crew’s headquarters—a fitting end to a night in which he and several others fought the fire in their area essentially on their own, he said.
“I never thought I’d have a laughing moment,” Boyd said.
Despite warnings to leave by fire officials and family members, Boyd and a few other locals stayed to protect their homes Friday morning, when the chaos began—waves of fire, propane tank explosions that sounded like cannons, homes reduced to rubble.
“When that’s all you own and that’s all that you are I feel it’s my right to try to do what’s best to protect what is mine,” he said. “I had no intention to put myself or anyone else in any kind of danger.
“We didn’t have a pumper truck, we didn’t have water, we didn’t have any real means to fight a blaze inside trees.”
The locals banded together and became brothers, Boyd said, eventually being dubbed “The Dutch Anderson Hot Shot Fire Crew.” Other members of the group include Ryan Anderson, Tribal members Loren Marchand, Virgil Tonasket, Duane Hall and Byron Sam, and a man known as “Warm Springs,” compose the group. Boyd said they made a pact before the fire came:
“No one was gonna leave,” Boyd said, “no one was gonna go off on their own. No trying to get anybody in any kind of trouble.”
Without much fire training, the group basically winged it, he said. Just a day earlier, news outlets reported the death of three firefighters.
Boyd said he was aware, but “we didn’t want to think about the negative. We just said keep it positive and we just needed to make the right move at the right time.”
“We used common logic,” he said. “If the wind’s blowin’ our way, fire’s coming our way, we’re in danger. We (periodically) sent out a couple people to go make sure where the fire was.”
His wife and daughter fled to Spokane. They were evacuated Thursday, but Tony and Barkley drove around the area watching the fire in preparation as a red glow appeared in the distance.
“About every two hours I’d come to the highway and watch,” Boyd said. “Later, towards (4 or 5 o’clock in the) morning, you could see it coming on the field. It was getting toward us.”
At about 6 a.m., police officers dropped by to inform Boyd the fire would be jumping the fire.
“I made sure the water was on,” he said. “(The group of guys) had a plan to stage at Ryan Moore’s house (down Dutch Anderson Road).”
THE DUTCH ANDERSON HOT SHOT FIRE CREW GOES TO WORK
With the group rallied, they began countering the fire at 7 a.m., when a man stopped by stating the fire was above Boyd’s residence.
“It was threatening (my neighbor’s) home,” he said. “We got ready to head back down. That’s when we realized the fire had come down between my house and their place.
“The wall of fire was at least 30, 35 feet high and it cut me off from my house,” he said.”
The group fell back to Moore’s place. Sam and Marchand grabbed a truck and a disc to cut into their field, Boyd said.
“They started cutting the fire line there,” he said, noting he heard other neighbors using heavy vehicles to protect their lands.
“So then we were just in the waiting game, because we were surrounded by fire,” he said.
They had heard the fire in Disautel was approaching and a fire at Kartar had shut down Omak Lake Road, Boyd said.
“As a group, we all made a plan that we were gonna fight fire and try to get out together,” he said.
From there, began fighting fire and saving homes in four vehicles. They made some difficult decisions, leaving some they felt they could not save along the way, Boyd said. The scene got hairy when the group came to an open house in a field.
“We dug and dug and dug, fought that fire, managed to save that house,” Boyd said. “That’s when the fire came up on us. And it was following us up across the field.”
The group, in a vehicle, cut across burning field toward Moore’s home, he said.
“There was an open gate right when the fire was hitting the gate,” Boyd said. “We cut back through the field and made it back. … That’s when we made it past the fire line and that’s when we deemed it safe.”
Back at Moore’s, the group watch fire threaten two homes in the distance. They left two vehicles, grabbed shovels and rakes and headed back to the danger zone, he said.
The group “fought that fire there in the field,” across the road from one of the houses, he said. “(We) diverted the fire away from those houses up there and then it kind of got to be a little bit much.”
The group waited on Dutch Anderson Road. Not long after, another house became endangered. Uncertain they could make it to the home, they stayed in the field and diverted the fire as long as they could, Boyd said.
They caught a break when the wind started to die down, he said, “so it was a little more manageable, if that’s possible.”
Exhausted from their day’s efforts, they had a sigh of relief when a fire truck and two pumper crews showed up, Boyd said.
“After all of the houses were no longer in danger, (a non-tribal crew) showed up, started squirting water everywhere,” he said. “And that was the only crew we seen up there the whole time.
“There was loaded dozers, cats up on the highway,” Boyd added, “and I never seen anyone in there fighting fires. Just us.”
They celebrated, chanting “Dutch Anderson Hot Shot Fire Crew,” he said.
Boyd returned to the ashes of his home on 30 Brokenhorse Lane, where the family had lived since last July. Members of the group sensed Boyd would be distraught, and told him to go get some sleep and charge his cell phone at the Moore residence.
“Like everyone else, (my family) is devastated and don’t know what to do,” he said. “My daughter is stronger than anybody, Nashoni is the powerhouse.”
The family had minimal insurance. “I’m not even sure what we’ll see out of it. We’re going through that paperwork right now.”
Boyd was proud to be a part of the self-proclaimed hotshots.
“I witnessed people being selfless,” he said. “I have heard a lot of people call me a hero because I lost my house (and continued to fight). We’re all the same amount of smoke sick.”
The Boyd family has no donations method set up. But they are appreciative of the outpour from the community, Boyd said.
“Every one I know, my family knows, that I don’t even know… They’ve all volunteered to help us,” he said. “That was the most impressive thing. That’s the thing that kind of gets me.”