Winney stays home armed with hose and sprinkler
By MEAD GRUVER, Associated Press
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A man who saw an immense wildfire raging his way said he was prepared for the worst — and glad he defied evacuation orders so he could defend his home with just a sprinkler and garden hose.
Bill Winney doubts his log home with a metal roof would have survived had he not aggressively watered the area around it for several days and then stood his ground as flames tore through the surrounding sagebrush Sunday.
“It was pretty nasty, and then once it blew by, it was, ‘OK, let’s walk around and make sure everything’s OK,’ ” Winney told The Associated Press by phone Monday.
Most firefighters would say Winney’s decision is a good example of what not to do when a wildfire is approaching. Better to get out rather than risk your life in an attempt to protect property, fire information officer Susan Garner said.
“We’re hoping people will evacuate when they’re told to do so, just for safety’s sake,” Garner said.
As of Monday, authorities had evacuated about 300 homes in the Bondurant area. At least three homes and possibly several more had burned even before winds caused the fire to flare again Monday afternoon.
Firefighters expected the fire to keep growing after charring an estimated 75 square miles (194 square kilometers) of mountainous pine forest and sagebrush meadows.
Residents of Hoback Ranches, Winney’s subdivision of widely spaced mountain retreats, were supposed to leave Sept. 18. A retired nuclear submarine commander, Winney stayed put figuring he stood a decent chance because his home wasn’t surrounded by pine trees but sagebrush and stands of aspen, which he doubted would burn readily.
Years ago, Winney said, he cleared away the sagebrush closest to his home to create a space he could defend against a wildfire. As the fire got ever closer over several days, he used his sprinkler to water that area nonstop.
He ran his well dry several times, but he knew the well would recharge within an hour or two. He kept his GMC Suburban SUV loaded with belongings in case he had to make a run for it.
Winney never did, though by Sunday he knew he was in for a fiery confrontation. “I was looking at the forecast winds and I said, ‘You know, this guy’s coming my way,’ ” he said.
With the flames bearing down Sunday afternoon, Winney said he stood outside with his garden hose to put out any embers that fell on his home. None did, he said.
“It went by within about 10 minutes. It was pretty intense,” Winney said. “But the other side of it is I had all that stuff wet and clear.”
The smoke made him cough, and his house smelled like smoke, he said, but that was the worst problem he had. He had no electricity but several days’ worth of fuel for his generator and more than enough food see him through, he said.
Winney planned to remain at home, figuring he wouldn’t be allowed to return if he left. Some other homes within sight of his in the large-acreage development had burned, he said.
Winney’s wife, Louise, wasn’t around but working a part-time job at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park.
Though their house didn’t burn, she didn’t approve.
“She was not really impressed. But she knows. She knows what kind of person I am,” Winney said.
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