I did a Clergy ride with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department last night. The watch started out normally; paperwork, stupid domestic disturbance call, stop for a bottle of water (it's already hot here in the high desert). Then the fun started.
We got a call for a wildfire burning in the west valley. Turns out it was within a mile of the homes of several deputies on the watch and mine as well. Half the units raced westward, augmented with another half-dozen from Palmdale station. The fire was burning a northeast path, angling toward a newer neighborhood and the state prison, but away from greater Quartz Hill.
When we arrived on scene we began blocking intersections and expanding the cordon. There were dozens of lookie-loos parked within yards of the flames. Everyone had to be moved back a mile from the fire. After the cordon was set, my deputy was sent to check on the only house in direct path of the fire. We began driving down 70th West from K to J, following a firetruck. The flames were angling closer to 70th as we drove. Suddenly the firetruck slammed to a halt and the firemen jumped into action dragging hoses from both sides of the truck, blocking our path. The firemen began hosing the flames that were now licking the shoulder of 70th. We were completely enveloped in smoke. My deputy decided to turn around and suddenly it was reminiscent of "The Charge of the Light Brigade." Flames to the left, flames to the right... etc, etc. We looked at each other and he said, "I'm gonna floor it, and head back to K." Okay by me.
Later evidence showed no scorch marks on the car, but I'm surprised. We raced into black smoke, blinded like it was heavy tulle fog. It seemed to stretch on and on. Finally the black smoke lightened to gray before reaching acceptable backyard-BBQ levels. Then we were through. On the other side we had to stop--nearly had to arrest--a frantic woman who wanted to go to the home we had been headed to, to check on dogs and cats. We had to watch her for hours until it was safe. (final score; dogs & cats 1, fire 0)
We spent the next several hours at the County fire battalion command post. My deputy relayed fire chief requests for assistance to the sheriff's command post. After the fire we sat for hours on reflash-watch, still blocking streets and making sure the fire did not rekindle. The car smelt of smoke for the rest of the watch and I'm sure the next deputy to drive it would have something to say about the stench as well.
The best part of the whole night was receiving a query over the unit's computer monitor: "R U OK?" I quoted a line from Luke Skywalker and my deputy typed the response: "We got a little cooked, but we're ok."