Firefighter briefly engulfed in flames while fighting blaze in Camas (with video)

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter



Gary Horst of the Camas/Washougal Fire Department retells the story of catching on fire while responding to an apartment blaze on Feb. 28, 2013. Horst's partner, Ron Nickles, was able to douse his partner before the flames caused any injury.

Ron Nickles and Gary Horst were the first to enter the two-story Camas townhouse that had flames and smoke coming from an upstairs bedroom Thursday morning.

They hurried up the stairs and attacked the fire with a hose line, quickly putting out the blaze.

Certain that the fire was out, the duo moved onto ventilating the room that had filled with thick smoke.

“There was zero visibility. Smoke had risen to the ceiling and we couldn’t see anything,” Nickles said.

But when Horst pulled open a window to get a cross-breeze going, something fell from the sill, broke at his feet and consumed him in flames.

“I was a human fireball,” Horst said. “I started yelling, ‘Ronny put me out!’ That’s what I kept saying over and over again.”

Nickles said he looked up and was confused.

“I couldn’t figure out what happened, we already had the fire out,” he said, recounting that the room turned bright orange for a second time. “Gary just turned into an instant ball of fire. … He looked like Nicolas Cage in ‘Ghost Rider.’ “

What he admits was probably only a few seconds felt a lot longer to Horst.

“I remember it was getting very warm. I was wondering why he wasn’t putting me out yet,” he said.

Having already put out the fire they were dispatched to, Nickles had dropped his water hose about 10 feet away from him. He grabbed the nozzle and quickly doused his partner with water.

Having worked on the fire crew for 16 years, this is the first time Horst has experienced someone catching on fire.

“Luckily the gear worked,” Horst said. “Otherwise, I’d probably be over at Emanuel (Medical Center in Portland).”

The official cause of the fire, reported at 9:35 a.m. at 256 S.E. Weir St. in Camas, remains under investigation.

The tenant who was home at the time, however, told fire officials that he had been looking under the bed with a lighter because he didn’t have a flashlight available, said Camas-Washougal Fire District Chief Nick Swinhart.

Neither the tenant nor any firefighters were hurt during the incident.

“Fortunately it appears the firefighter was protected by his gear and did not suffer any injuries,” Swinhart said in a news release.

Damage to the townhouse was confined to the bedroom, but the rest of the residence sustained smoke and water damage, Swinhart said.

The American Red Cross was notified to assist the two adult male residents who were displaced.