COARSEGOLD — For the third time in 18 months, traveling on Highway 41 in Madera County, Jennifer Christensen desperately needed a fire extinguisher.
Coming home from Community Regional Medical Center, where she’s a registered nurse in the Emergency Department, Jennifer spotted black smoke pouring from a vehicle parked at Black Hawk Lodge. She saw flames coming from the hood. Immediately, she pulled over and called 911.
Jennifer is no stranger to accidents or fires. Working in the ER for the last three years, she has encountered the aftermath of these incidents on a regular basis. Still newlywed, her husband Drew is a helicopter pilot for SkyLife, so he’s experienced, as well. In December of 2016, before they were married, the couple got the kind of experience nobody wants. That morning before dawn, carpooling to work, an out-of-area driver in a Ford E-350 12 passenger van attempted to pass a slow-moving truck, and instead drove head-on at high speed into the couple’s Toyota Tacoma, resulting in a fiery crash.
Recovering from the accident, Jennifer was determined to be prepared for catastrophe on the road, and began carrying more supplies.
Last October, she was among the half-dozen locals who successfully responded to a trail of small fires burning in brush on Highway 41 in the Deadwood area. That day, she went home and ordered a collapsible shovel to aid in tamping flames, and a fire extinguisher, should the need for these tools ever arise.
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So, Jennifer was ready to help when she pulled over on Thursday, June 14, just before dark. Jennifer was prepared. Unfortunately, the people whose car was on fire were not.
“The occupants were standing next to the vehicle and spoke Spanish only, not one word of English,” Jennifer says, noting that her high school language skills came in handy.
“I was able to use the little Spanish I know to know to assure that everyone was out of the vehicle safely.” Later, she found out the man and two women had come from Mendota and were headed to the casino.
“They said they heard a pop and something fell from the car and it began to smoke. They pulled over under the tree and got out, and the car began to catch fire.”
Jennifer’s fire extinguisher was at the ready, but the flames were growing beyond her own ability to assist without danger.
“I felt the flames were beginning to be too large for my comfort and my safety was not worth attempting to extinguish the fire. Just then, a fireman pulled up in a truck by himself. I asked how I could help and he used my fire extinguisher to attempt to extinguish the fire. He managed to keep the flames small enough to not catch the large oak tree above the vehicle.”
Meanwhile, the occupants were attempting to secure transportation to the casino, even as the fire danger increased. One of the women stood in the tall grass, smoking a cigarette, while observing the mayhem. The vehicle was parked directly beneath a low-hanging oak tree decorating an old wooden hotel set in the parched landscape of the tinder-dry west.
Thankfully, more help arrived, in the form of a CHP officer who used his extinguisher to assist in keeping the flames from reaching the surrounding brush.
“A few minutes later several fire engines arrived on scene and were able to extinguish the fire,” Jennifer continues. “There were no injuries and, thankfully, it did not spread into a vegetation fire. Thank you, firefighters and CHP, for all your hard work. You are appreciated beyond words.”
She’s also grateful to her friend Teresa, who assisted over the phone with translating essential details for CHP and fire reports.
Jennifer’s most recent experience serves as a timely reminder for residents and visitors to remain vigilant when it comes to fire safety.
“Please, if you pass by an accident or fire, I urge you to call 911 and report it. Don’t assume someone already called in. If you feel safe to assist it is much appreciated, but your safety is first and you can’t help others if you get injured.”
Also, she recommends having a fire extinguisher in your vehicle.
“This is the third time in a year-and-a-half that I’ve needed it. Thirty dollars from Target.”
Be alert, she says — be prepared, be safe.
“There are so many people driving these roads, clueless to the dangers up here. I do feel very strongly about helping others.
“If you’re ever in a situation just stay calm and ask how you can help. Avoid standing in the roadway or getting too close to a fire.
“I won’t be at the scene of every fire or motor vehicle accident, but when I am — I like to be prepared.”