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Miracle on Sligo Mill Court: Homes Saved From Another Seminole Woods Eruption

| June 15, 2011

Tracey Clegg and her 5-year-old daughter Keira in the aftermath of the fire that almost devoured their home, looking through the char of their backyard. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

[A photo gallery from the scene is below the text. A complete update of Flagler’s 22 fires, including locations, maps, acreage, is now available here.]

They were shaking hands: Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle and Dale Clegg, on Clegg’s front driveway at the end of Sligo Mill Court. The house was safe. So were the houses on either side of Clegg’s. It looked little short of miraculous. As miraculous as the scene of Clegg’s 5-year-old daughter Keira, sitting on her mother Tracey’s lap in the backyard, watching firefighters mop up the charred lot in front of them, its new blackness sharply contrasting with the still-peach and unscathed color of their own house.

They’ll be sleeping in their home tonight instead of a hotel or a shelter or a relative’s home, thanks to the rapid response of firefighters and one pilot.

A few hours earlier this afternoon, the Cleggs, their neighbor Ray Aguiar and Aguiar’s cat, L.B., were all evacuating, as were others on a parallel street. The fire was in their backyard, crackling, assaulting the line of woods there as if nothing was going to stop it. Both homeowners thought their houses were going to go up in flames.

And for many long minutes Wednesday afternoon, from 2:30 to 3 p.m., it looked and sounded as if they might be right. Just before evacuating, Clegg was watering his other next-door neighbor’s wooden fence, hoping to counter the hellish heat building from the fire in that empty lot. The fence later combusted in an instant. But it proved to be the only structural property lost in the fire, a fire that broke out several hundred yards northeast of the White Eagle fire, the 134-acre mind-game firefighters have been fighting and mopping up since May 31, when it erupted as suddenly and viciously as today’s.

For the second time in two weeks, firefighters literally saved several homes barely a few feet from galloping flames. An afternoon that began in controlled panic was ending in cathartic, disbelieving celebration.

Beadle thinks today’s eruption is a result of embers flying from the White Eagle fire, proving the danger firefighters and residents across the county face these days, as dry conditions get worse with heat and any spark, any ember, can spot over from a fire and start a new one. That, in fact, is why Beadle was patrolling the outskirts of the White Eagle fire this afternoon.

“We were checking the neighborhood because we knew it was going to spot,” Beadle said. “The potential for this to do what it did—we were out while still doing mop up on the White Eagle, actually we were a couple of miles down on Old Dixie,” when the call came and all sorts of units were dispatched from the Emergency Operations Center, where they’re staged. County, Flagler Beach and Bunnell units ended up joining Palm Coast to do battle.

“When I got here it was crowning, coming across the back of your property,” Beadle told Clegg. Crowning means the fire was running across the tree canopy high above ground.

“She called me,” Clegg said of his wife Tracey, who was inside the house, the air conditioning running, and literally heard the crackling outside. “I was over on John Anderson and I could tell something was wrong. Oh, man, I drove, I won’t say how fast I drove to get here but I drove over the speed limit.”

“So did I,” Beadle said.

“I bet you did. I got a few things out but by the time I got out, you know I was out there putting water on their fence.”

Briefly after residents left, Beadle was alone on the cul de sac while a captain took off for Sloganeer to fight the source of the fire and run the operation from that end. There was a surreal moment when Beadle was standing there, without an engine, calling for as many as he could get. They got there, and got to work.

“And the helicopter? You’ve got to thank Dana. Dana Morris.” That’s the copter pilot who’s been flying the county’s Fire Flight day in and day out. “We were standing there and it was starting to spot and starting to run a little bit toward the next street, and they were still working to get the hydrant—we’d run out of water by putting water on the fire, we didn’t have enough at that time—so Dana came in, God bless him, and he dropped, I was standing next to the tree,” at that point Beadle makes the sort of dropping, crumbling, splashing sound that has no equivalent in the English language, the sound of a 200-some gallon bucket releasing its water. It sounds more like a West African translation of Al Pacino’s famous “booyah,” but longer and more resonant. “Right between me and the tree, and Jim [something] one of my other guys. Twice. He’s great with that thing. He saved these two houses I’m sure.”

“She was a little shocked when she walked in the backyard and saw how it had changed,” Clegg said of his daughter. “She told me when they were leaving in a hurry, when the fire was coming through there, she said ‘my tummy was hurting,’ she said ‘I was feeling funny out here.’ I think she was getting panicked, you know. It’s scary. It would have scared me if I’d been home seeing that. Now my wife said she could hear the fire coming through the trees and wondered what that crackling sound was and looked out the windows and saw it coming through the trees.”

Later that afternoon, as the firefighters were dousing the ground in water to prevent flare-ups and creating a mist of their own with their powerful water hoses from high above, Keira “went and got her umbrella,” Clegg said. “Tracey says why do you want an umbrella? She says I just wish I had a bigger umbrella. She was happy. She said at least they didn’t get my play set.”

The fires have been as if chasing after Clegg. The White Eagle fire burned his mother’s property a few days ago (but not a home). And the fire on County Road 204 was driving through another one of his properties. Now this, within literal inches of the home he’s lived in for almost three years.

Ray Aguiar next door didn’t hear the fire. “Somebody came beating on my door, ‘get out, fire, fire!,’ boo-booboom. I don’t know who it was, I never saw the person.” A neighbor was in fact running through the street banging on residents’ doors to warn them.

“I’m pretty much ready to come back and find my house burned down,” Clegg said. I was pretty much resigned, we might have lost it, and if we did, I told Tracey on the phone, I said, well, you know, we’re going to get what we’re going to get.”

“I was afraid I was going to lose it,” Aguiar said. “But when I pulled out, actually I just went down to the end of the street and watched for a few minutes. Next thing I know here comes the helicopter,” which proved to be the turning point. “We owe Dana a case of beer.”

“These guys have been working a lot of overtime, and every time I see them they’re in a pretty good mood. They’re tired, but they talk to you, and they’ve been getting it done really good,” Clegg said. “These guys are really doing a heck of a job.”

Sligo Mill Miracle Photo Gallery

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14 Responses for “Miracle on Sligo Mill Court: Homes Saved From Another Seminole Woods Eruption”

  1. thinkforyourself says:

    You honestly need to be commended for you coverage of the fires. If it weren’t for you and the on-going coverage you’re providing to our community we would have no idea how much our men and women who are fighting these fires are doing and have done to keep us safe! THANK YOU and THANK YOU to all the men and women who keep us safe!!!

  2. Mario says:

    This is really scary stuff. Insane. Very happy for the homeowners and great job to all the courageous firefighters who conquered this beast. Thankfully, the helicopter showed up and was most likely the turning point. They’ll be more it seems. Terrible situation. Pray for rain and lots of it. I am so tired of the constant putrid smell of smoke. Just like 98. Remember, NO FIREWORKS!

  3. Rob says:

    Yes, thank you for your updates, Pierre. We relied on them today to see how close they were to us. We are packed and ready if and when we need to evacuate.

  4. Merrill says:

    Don’t know how you’re doing all this Pierre! You seem to be in ten places at once–all the time! Bravo! Masterful work in demonstrating how essential is to our community!

  5. Jennie Keppler says:

    Please pray for the safety of all the firefighters and emergency workers out there working hard day and night for 36hrs at a time to keep us safe. My husband is out there with many others working as hard as they can to keep these fires contained and everyone safe. Pray for lots of rain with no lightening and that our POS Gov.Rick Scott wakes the heck up and starts doing his job!!! Like the men and women are continuing to do, even though he raises their health insurence costs and cuts their pensions. Thank you to the many people of the commuinty who have and continue to donate supplies to the firefighters. They need our support.

  6. Yogi says:

    Why hasn’t the fire chief ordered the brush mowed near these houses. We’ve known for weeks the fire danger is high. The photo looks like the brush is right up next to these homes. Palm coast has plenty of money for pet projects but where is the preventive protection for times like these? Why aren’t you covering this angle Pierre?

  7. Frances says:

    Amazing firefighters!!!!! Thank you! Thank you!

  8. intheknow says:

    Although Dana is the head of Flight Services, Brady Winslow also flies FireFlight. They split the duty usually serving one week on and one week off — Tuesday through Monday.

    Dana has been fighting wild fires for a very long time and is an artist with the bambi bucket whether with the short or long tether.

    We also need to thank the Fire Chiefs, Mike Beadle — Palm Coast, Martin Roberts — Flagler Beach, Derek Fraser — Bunnell, and Don Petito — Flagler County. Their cooperation and planning has been excellent and clearly in evidence during these fires. They and their crews do the hard work day in and day out.

    Finally, thank you for keeping us informed despite the county management’s attempts to stop information from getting out.

  9. Jojo says:

    I do agree that Palm Coast had plenty of time to clear land next to residents homes since 1998. I see some vacant lots with brush right up to residents homes by as much as seven feet, surely not much of a buffer for the people already living here. I am aware they send notices to out-of-State landowners to clear a certain amount of space but eventually the brush grows back?

  10. Patti says:

    Thanks for keeping us up dated Pierre. Seems like you’re the only one doing it, at least openly and in a timely manner! Thanks again to all who continue to work hard to keep us safe. God Bless them and keep them safe as well! Please rain..hard and long!!!!!

  11. Yogi says:

    Seminole woods has been a chronic problem spot for years with fires. I look at these pictures and wonder what the fire department was thinking while we were under a burn ban for months. Everyone knew this dry spell would be a problem and there was plenty of time to prepare by cutting the brush this spring. The experts know this. I don’t understand why these residents had to be put in this life threatening situation. There should be an investigation in to this. I hope this news outlet begins to look into this and get the ball rolling. This is serious stuff. People die terrible deaths in these type of fires.

  12. Binky says:

    I believe fire mitigation is under control City of Palm Coast, I could be wrong. They were in my neighborhood about two months ago. I see them about every two years. I’ve maintained about 15 feet of buffer at my house from the vacant lot. It’s not too difficult once it’s cut the first time.

    Fire mitigation is important. I learned in the fires of 98 how well those slash pines burn.

  13. Mino says:

    If these damn yankees would quit worrying about trying to run this town like we’re ‘up north’ and putting sidewalks where we don’t need them and irrigation systems where there’s no plant life and Palm Coast signs all over the place, give me a break! They don’t give a cr#@ about us down here in the ‘hood’, Seminole Woods that is, how about spending some of our tax dollars ‘in the hood’ to give us some relief from the fire dangers that surround just about every home in this quiet little neighborhood instead of worrying about where the next new city park is gonna be built! The powers that be that are running this so called city are pathetic!! Somebody get some balls and back me up on this because I almost lost my home yesterday within about 20 feet, but thanks to Dana Morris (helicopter pilot) and Chief Mike Beadle and all the firemen and crews from all over the state, a few of us still have a home today. But that could all change at any moment if these damn yankees in charge don’t get off their butts and do something about this! My sincere thanks and gratitude to all the good folks who are putting their lives at stake to keep our homes safe from these unnecessary fires!!! You guys are the BEST!!!!!

  14. mara says:

    I live down here in the Woods, too, Mino, and I have to say, about the only time I’ve seen the city here in the last two years is when I see the guys who mow the medians and the other “common areas”, the guys who pump the septic tanks when the alarms go off and all these amazing firemen and forestry service people who have been working their asses off to keep the fires out of our neighborhoods. All do exemplary jobs when they are here, that’s not the problem. The problem is, as you said, we are “the boonies” to the City.

    It’s unfortunate that the second large annexation was followed by the bottom falling out of the economy, but you know what they say about “being prepared”. I GET IT that the city budget took a huge hit when property values declined, and that there are more cuts in services coming. But the remaining priorities and big ideas they had–back when things were better–clearly need further review.

    It’s one thing to try and attract outside business, and build in special events and family-centric things like sidewalks or parks. But that big new marble wall going up out on I-95 adjacent to the FL Hospital, in particular, has really been an irritant to me anyway. And in this context–this “our homes could go up in flames in an instant because of all the kindling in the woods surrounding the properties” point-of-view–I seriously want to know whose bright idea that was and how much money and manpower was wasted on it.

    Most of the dried-out swamp between Seminole Woods and Old Dixie Highway belongs to the city of Palm Coast. I don’t think it’s unreasonable, either, to expect less vanity projects and more basic maintenance. Call back some of the people you laid off, get down here with some backhoes and some shovels and start cleaning it up back there before it has a chance to burn even more.

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