Incident Name: Ordway Fire
Personnel: 2 lives lost
Agency/Organization: Olney Springs Volunteer Fire Department, Colorado
Position: Volunteer firefighters
Terry W. DeVore, age 38
John Wesley Schwartz, age 30
Chief Devore was the driver and Firefighter Schwartz was the front seat passenger in a 1988 GMC brush truck. The unit was responding to the Ordway Wildland Fire. Conditions in the area included blowing dust, smoke, and wind.
During the response, the crew attempted to drive over a wooden bridge over a ravine. Unbeknown to the firefighters, the bridge had been damaged by fire and failed as the brush truck drove over it.
The truck came to rest against the embankment at the opposite side of the ravine and caught fire. According to the county coroner, both firefighters died of traumatic injuries in the crash and subsequently burned. The firefighters' remains were recovered the next day when fire conditions permitted.
family photos of Terry Devore with family and John Schwartz
Site of wooden bridge collapse and crash on Hwy Colorado 96
- USFA Memorial Database: Terry DeVore | John Schwartz
- Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program: NIOSH Report
- WLF Hotlist LODD Thread: CO-PBX-Ordway Fire, Crowley County Engine Accident resulting in 2 F/F fatalities
- WLF Hotlist Incident Thread: CO-PBX-Ordway
Media Articles and Reports.
- Wildfires: Duty's fatal call
4/17/08 | Online Article
Lives of 2 fast-responding firefighters cut short at burned-out bridge
ORDWAY — Olney Springs Fire Chief Terry DeVore and firefighter John Schwartz heard the distress call Tuesday afternoon from their neighbors in Ordway and didn't hesitate. They suited up and zoomed east on Colorado 96.
Right behind them was DeVore's father, Bruce, a fire department volunteer for 36 years. The fire was bearing down on Ordway, 11 miles away. People were in serious danger. Structures were on fire. The town of 1,200 people was under orders to evacuate.
"We were moving hard," Bruce DeVore said Wednesday. "Like everybody says, we had the hammer down and we were blowing it by." In the dense smoke, he and the firefighters in his truck could barely see the taillights of the firetruck up ahead, but as they approached the intersection with Lane 15, Bruce DeVore told his driver to slow down. They couldn't see. The taillights ahead had vanished.
They went out of sight," Bruce DeVore said. "We hit the heavy smoke. I told Johnny we got to slow this thing down. I don't feel right." Johnny stopped the truck. Only 15 feet ahead, a stretch of Colorado 96 was gone. The bridge over a drainage ditch — an asphalt roadway held up by wooden railroad ties — had collapsed. Terry Devore and John Schwartz were gone, having fallen 15 feet into in a raging inferno.
Bruce DeVore joined his buddies in fighting the fire, pumping everything on board onto the flames. But he knew it was hopeless. "It was such an inferno," he said. "It was just a ball of fire. The truck and everything was a ball of fire."
For the next four hours or so, Bruce DeVore stayed with the fire and prayed that the Lord had taken his son quickly. "I know he did," he said. "I know the good Lord was looking over him. No pain. He was gone on impact."
Crowley County Coroner Karen Tomky said Wednesday that DeVore, 30, and Schwartz, 38, died instantly.
Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson Stacey Stegman said the bridge that collapsed was a 40-foot-long, two- lane timber structure built in 1937. "The bridge was structurally sound," she said. "It was a wooden bridge that burned. "The fire burned the bridge from underneath, and a pickup fell into the ravine. That driver escaped.
The Olney Springs Volunteer Fire Department truck carrying Terry DeVore and Schwartz was right behind the pickup.
Two lives and 24 homes
As the 1,200 evacuated residents trickled back into town Wednesday morning, they learned of the fire's toll: two lives, 24 homes, and dead livestock and pets. Eight of the destroyed structures were inside the city limits, mostly along the south and the west.
The fire that broke out Tuesday afternoon was pushed by wind gusts of 50 mph. It charred 8,900 acres, or about 14 square miles. The fire was declared 100 percent contained Wednesday evening. What caused it was still under investigation.
Gov. Bill Ritter has established a state of emergency for Ordway and sent $500,000 in emergency funds. Five Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers will also be sent. "Fast, dangerous, deadly," said Kevin Klein, director of the Colorado Division of Fire Safety.
On the north side of Ordway, Staci Buford, 27, had just finished cleaning the front porch Tuesday afternoon. Three of her children — Cole, 4, Tel, 2, and Graydon, 1 — and her nephew, Case, 3, were napping upstairs in her trilevel home. Her husband, Riley, was working a field on their seven acres. Staci had been keeping an eye on the smoke to the south. She gathered up some photos, birth certificates and Social Security cards and placed them on the kitchen counter — just in case.
Before she knew it, a field of grass and weeds adjacent to her home was ablaze. She called her husband on his cellphone: "It's here. It's here." He ran to the house. They hurried up the steps, grabbed the children and raced for the door. In less than a minute, the fire was licking at their home. The windows turned black and started to crack. Flames crept into the interior.
Each carrying two children, the Bufords reached the door, opened it and were walloped by a wall of heat. They started coughing and choking. Having no other choice, they ran through fire to their van. They escaped down the driveway, through a canopy of fire. They drove to Sugar City, where shelters had been set up.
"When we got there, the 2-year- old wouldn't get out of the van. He kept saying, 'The fire, the fire.' He was shaking," Staci Buford said. "We only had time to get in the vehicle and leave," her husband said. "I could barely see driving out."
When they returned Wednesday, only the brick chimneys in their home were standing. A chain from a child's swing and the frame of a bicycle lay in their yard. They are grateful for the generosity of their community. "We went by the bank in Rocky Ford just to talk to them, and there were people just giving us money. I don't have my purse or anything," Staci Buford said.
South of the Bufords, Mary and Robert Pinar were devastated when they found their two-story home in ashes. When the fire inched closer to town Tuesday afternoon, they went to their son Oscar Martinez's home and saved it.
"While we were doing that, we lost this one," Mary Pinar said. "But we saved his." When they tried returning to their home, they couldn't. There was too much smoke.
Despair turned to joy
Their despair, though, turned to joy a few minutes later when Oso — their big dog, whose Spanish name means Bear — came bounding out of a Pueblo Animal Control officer's truck.
"Part of our family," cried Oscar Martinez, 45, the Pinars' son. A few minutes later, a three- legged cat came scurrying by. "Survivor! Survivor!" Mary Pinar yelled, explaining that she had given the cat that name because neighbors had told her she should euthanize it because it had only three legs.
At the Olney Springs fire department on Wednesday, the department flag hung at half-staff. The day before, as he stood overlooking the inferno that held his son and his comrade, Bruce DeVore asked his fellow firefighters not to say anything about the deaths over the radio. His wife, Deb, had a scanner.
About 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, DeVore finally left the scene. He called his wife and told her to drive to their son's home and wait for him there with Terry's wife. "We knew something was wrong, but we didn't know what," said Deb DeVore. "I thought Terry was hurt really, really bad, but I didn't know what."
When Bruce DeVore walked into his son's house, he turned to his wife. "We lost him," he told her.
On Wednesday morning, with smoke still thick in the Arkansas Valley, Bruce DeVore went back to the burned-out bridge where the inferno had taken two lives the day before.
"I just wanted to make sure it wasn't a movie," he said.
Photos, Videos, & Tributes
- Slideshow from 9News.com: Ordway Fire. No longer online.
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