War and Wildfire: Almost 40 Years on the Front Lines
De Luz Volunteer Fire Chief Manchor beside his patrol engine, which was provided by the San Diego New Car Dealers Association.
After five days keeping Camp Pendleton’s Roblar II Fire outside the De Luz boundaries, firefighters heard an urgent call from Paradise Fire Incident Command. “We need more engines NOW!”
The dispatch response was chilling. “There are none available.”
De Luz Fire Chief Mike Manchor quickly assembled half of his Department’s force into a five-engine quick response task force and convoyed the aging apparatus and firefighters (19-80 year olds) 45 miles to Valley Center. Santa Ana winds rapidly spread fire embers, igniting dry vegetation ahead of the main flames. The sky was brown and thick with smoke. “It reminded me of 12 years earlier when I led a convoy through the burning Kuwaiti Oil Fields during Operation Desert Storm,” says Manchor. “But now, instead of being responsible for a dozen highly-trained combat Marines, I had a score of volunteer firefighters to lead.”
Chief Manchor inside vehicle 8862 as a 500-gallon tank of racing fuel explodes during the Paradise Fire
The Paradise Command Center quickly assigned their task force to the North Lake Wolford area, but fire had blocked the road to their assigned area. Families and homeowners ran down driveways, terrified. They grabbed onto the fire engine mirrors and hung off the engines crying, “Please save our homes!”
It must have been a heart-wrenching and frightening scene. But Manchor is thoughtful when asked how he felt. “John Wayne once said ‘Real courage is being scared to death yet saddling up anyway.’ Being scared for myself was replaced by concern for my crews and for these people. I knew I had to lead my men and women into that firestorm from the front.”
De Luz’s small agile engines were well suited for firefighting in these kinds of neighborhoods—steep, unpaved driveways, low tree branches, and drainage culverts that might have buckled under heavier engines. "I gave the order on the radio, ‘we’ll make our stand here, disperse and save what you can.’ I watched in the rear view mirror my small engines racing up driveways and going into action like I trained them."
De Luz crews spent 11 hours in that neighborhood that day. The fire approached the crews three times from three different directions. “We stayed until all homes were safe and then limped home on fumes. We were exhausted, but we saved 23 homes.”
The next day they were dispatched to the Cedar Fire. Over an eleven day period they fought three major fires. Then on Halloween, it started to rain, and it was over... this time.
Because of their dedicated service during the Paradise Fire, County Supervisor Bill Horn recognized the De Luz firefighters during his annual State of North County Address, and Valley Center awarded them and the other firefighters there that day the Meritorious Fire Service medal.
Read more of the Chief's impressive story on our website!
Thank the De Luz Volunteer Fire Department for all they have done! To continue to serve their community, they need $6,000 to purchase:
- Helmet lights: Help firefighters see in dark places without having to hold flashlights. Frees up firefighter's hands for rescues, medical emergencies, etc.
- Hand spot lights for De Luz engines: Illuminates a larger area than flashlights can cover. Aids in looking for lost people or walking through brush to get to a fire.
- Set of infra-red land zone strobe lights for the Chief's vehicle: Used to assist helicopter landings or assist in a rescue.