State Patrol troopers stay on job despite losing everything in Washington wildfireson July 23, 2014 @ 1:12 pm (Updated: 4:42 pm - 7/23/14 )
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Sgt. Lex Lindquist and Trooper Ted Shook told reporters Wednesday they've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support since the fires destroyed their homes last Thursday.
Both were on duty when the fire raged through the area, working to help evacuate people from danger zones and manage traffic and road closures.
But Lindquist says throughout the day, he had no indication the fire would break out and roar through the small towns of Brewster and Pateros, destroying about 100 homes, including his own.
"I attended the fire meeting earlier in the morning and it seemed like it was contained within the Carlton Complex area," he says. "And by 4 or 5 that night was when we realized something was coming our way."
The 47-year-old WSP veteran says he called a friend with a horse trailer to help evacuate his animals and raced home. His wife and kids scrambled to gather whatever they could as the fire roared towards their home. All the while, he couldn't stop thinking of doing his job.
"My family had laid everything out on the bed for me to get dressed so I could go back to work. My son had already started my car because he knew I had to go and he left," Lindquist says. "When I left my home that evening, I had a very strong feeling that it was not going to be there in the morning."
As the fire raged, Shook was just ending his patrol shift and heading home to his Alta Lake neighborhood when Lindquist called him back to work.
"Unquestioningly, he responded to the call," he says.
Shook says while he could see the smoke billowing from Pateros a few miles away, he didn't think his neighborhood was in any immediate danger.
"And so I sat on a roadblock just south of Pateros and listened to radio traffic. We heard it jumped the road and headed towards the Alta Lake region."
It wasn't until he got to Brewster that he learned homes had caught fire. By then it was too late to get anything.
"I left my house with the uniform on my back and everything that was in my patrol car," he says.
While Shook says he knew it was likely his home had been destroyed, the trooper focused on helping others and doing his job, maintaining road blocks and evacuating residents as the fire raged.
"It was hard to turn people away knowing that I myself wanted to go home, but I knew that there was a job that needed to be done and people needed to be sometimes protected from themselves."
It wasn't until the next morning that both Lindquist and Shook were able to get back to the charred remains of what used to be their homes and their lives.
"It's hard to lose everything. I've never lost everything before. So this is a new experience for me," Lindquist says.
Shook says while the loss was devastating, family, friends and complete strangers quickly came to his family's side.
"The immediate and unquestioning amount of support was really humbling," he says. "My niece wrote me two sorry letters in case one burned up on the way over. I couldn't ask for a greater group of friends and family to help me through these times."
Lindquist says he's been moved by the outpouring of support and the ordeal has brought his family closer together despite facing such adversity.
And he says he's particularly proud of his wife, who stayed behind as long as she could loading up the family's dogs, kids and whatever personal possessions she could gather while he raced back to work.
"In fact, she stayed much longer than I think she should have."
It would be understandable if both troopers took time off from work to deal with their situation, but Shook says it was important for him to get back in uniform. He says the experience will make him a better trooper when he deals with others facing life-changing situations of their own.
"I'll be able to tell people I know what you're going through because I've been there," he says.
Still, he admits the fire has changed his life forever.
"I went back this morning and just kind of kicked some things around, but I don't think that part of you will ever be the same."
KIRO Radio's Brandi Kruse continues to report from the scene of the wildfires. Hear her reports on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. Brandi contributed to this report.
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