Christina Earle of Anaheim Hills was in a panic when she first met Capt. John Strickland of Anaheim Fire & Rescue. It was Oct. 9, the morning the Canyon 2 brush fire began.
“I remember being upstairs and looking out the window and just seeing the flames coming up and you can just feel the heat from the fire through the window,” Earle said.
Strickland was on scene on Heatherwood Road with Engine 9, the fire company’s first assignment that day. By the time the firefighters pulled hoses around the back of the homes, the fire had jumped the 241 Toll Road and was heading toward the neighborhood.
“I said, ‘Water, we need water in the hoses,’ and then, boom, it was already hitting us in the back yards,” Strickland said.
Earle was reluctant to leave.
“He said their first priority was saving lives, and to get us out, and then they move to saving property,” Earle said, “but he was pretty adamant that they were going to save my house.”
From her parents’ home a short drive away in Anaheim Hills, the family watched the firefighters through the Ring doorbell video.
“We watched them coming in and out with their hoses, and then all of a sudden we start seeing them pack up their hoses and we’re like, wait a minute, where are they going?” Earle said. “But we knew at that time that if they’re leaving we must be safe.”
Shortly after suppressing the fire on Heatherwood Road, Engine 9 was called to Banner Ridge Drive, just a few streets away, where fire was beginning to burn the back yard of a home on the corner — Bristel and Steve Strauch’s house. Engine 9 was able to extinguish that fire, too, though six other homes on the street were lost to the flames.
“You always hear of that survivor guilt,” Earle said. “I don’t know how our house was saved.”
Though the area is Engine 10’s district, Engine 9 performed routine follow-up visits in the days that followed to ensure the homes remained safe, and explain to residents how they protected the homes — for example, why patio furniture was in the pool, or why they punched holes in the fence to pull a hose through.
“It made us feel safer, knowing they do really care,” Jennifer Shirley said. “They could have just come down, turned around, and waved, but they parked the truck and all got out and hung out with us.”
Strickland, whose previous assignments have been downtown Anaheim and Disneyland, enjoys the community relationship.
“It’s actually pretty special for me,” Strickland said. “We really felt like we made a huge difference with both of these neighborhoods… We kind of felt we had a connection to the Heatherwood neighborhood.”
That connection has been a comfort for Bristel Strauch, who moved to California last year. Since, she’s weathered a house flood, two fires, and a mudslide warning. An insurance adjuster who visited a couple days after the Canyon 2 Fire found live embers at her house.
“All of that should have been in flames… It’s surreal,” Strauch said. “The first fire was close, the Canyon Fire, because I could see the flames. It was coming down that mountain. The second fire was literally 2 feet away.”
Strauch enjoyed meeting the firefighters who worked to protect her home.
“When we got back, you could see a fireman’s footprint on our ledge,” she said. “It was cool being able to meet somebody that actually took part in saving our specific house.”
During those visits, Strickland invited the families to tour the fire station and the families began inviting Engine 9 to neighborhood lunches, holiday parties, and kids’ birthdays. The families snuck over to the fire station one night to put up posters the kids made thanking the firefighters for their work.
“There were a lot of other men and women who were equally just as amazing during the fires,” Earle said. “We just have a special place in our heart for Engine 9.”