Legendary Firefighters: Split Second Decision During Wildfire Saved 12 Souls

Last updated: April 11, 2022

Wildfires can rip through an area in the blink of an eye. A phenomenon that Californians have become extremely familiar with in recent years as each fire season brings heartache and destruction.

King Fire

Firefighters from all around the United States have been called in to help fight the seemingly endless California blazes. During the King Fire, Arizonians and Californians were fighting the flames together, but an Arizonian saved 12 people's lives.

The King Fire was working through the Sierra Nevada in Northern California. According to azcentral, Gary Dahlen and Kevin Fleming were both working the fire.

Dahlen was in a Bell helicopter employing a water bucket on the flames, while Flemming was in charge of inmate firefighters on the ground.

Flemming and his crew were trapped uphill from a hot spot that kicked back up, leaving them in peril. Flemming radioed for help, and Dahlen happened to be close by.

Last-Minute Save

The crew was under their foil shelters, hoping to keep safe from the encroaching flames. However, as an Arizonian, Dahlen knew that the shelters did not always hold up against intense flames.

In 2013, 19 firefighters died in the Yarnell Hill Fire. The firefighters were from the Prescott-based Granite Mountain Hotshots.

While Dahlen was not working the Yarnell Hill fire, he was very aware of what happened. He immediately radioed to the crew below and led them to a clearing where he could retrieve them.

National Recognition

As a result of the experience, Flemming and Dahlen became close friends. The lifesaving move went viral and made national news.

The U.S. Fire Service gave Dahlen an award, and he was named pilot of the year at the Helicopter Association International exposition.

Chris Dancy, director of communications for the association, said it is not a yearly award. Instead, they only hand it out when a pilot or group truly deserves it.

"The pilots who, after the Chernobyl meltdown, flew over the destroyed reactor to drop concrete on it and seal the leak were nominated as a group. That's the sort of event" that garners a pilot of the year award."

Chris Dancy

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