A Teen’s Harrowing Stand

This is the fourth and last in a series of So Cal wildfire stories  from the Los Angeles Times


David Ottesen, 16, survives a daylong battle to save his family’s Poway house and neighborhood from the Witch fire.
The power was out, most of the block had evacuated and fire was dancing all over Poway. David Ottesen, 16, had spent most of the day helping his father and grandfather protect other people’s houses. Now his own was in trouble.

It was just after dark. David, a junior at Poway High School, and his father, Eric, had been working with neighbors, using a pickup to haul a generator and a water pump from house to house so they could draw pool water and wet down yards and roofs.

David’s grandfather, Sterling Ottesen, who happened to be visiting from Utah, was helping too.

Between chores, David fielded calls and text messages from his four older brothers scattered in Texas, Arizona, Utah and Orange County.

Amid chaos, they had a kind of order. By the time the sun went down, he and his father and grandfather were back at home, a 20-year-old, four-bedroom place on Bent Tree Court.

Then David stepped out the sliding glass door into the backyard.

"I looked up the hill and saw the flames coming down," he recalled. "I was really scared."

So was everybody else. Within minutes, his mother was sitting in the driver’s seat of the family’s Ford Expedition, ready to bolt, surrounded by crucial possessions.

David threw in most of his clothes, his iPod, some of his CDs, none of his books, and the synthesizer he plays in a band with some buddies. War Toys, they call themselves.

"I thought about some of my posters," David said. "But my dad was like, ‘Let’s take the more important stuff.’ "

David, his father and his grandfather returned to the backyard. The fence at the edge of the property erupted in flame, and the nectarine and plum trees ignited. The good news was that the Ottesen property is a full acre — the family’s tennis court and pool and fruit trees stood between the fire and the house.

The bad news — the bad news was pretty obvious.

"Our palm trees caught on fire — three big ones by our tennis court were burning," David said. He was standing on the tennis court, near the pool, working the hose while his father dealt with the generator. "These embers were flying at us, hundreds of embers, and we had to dodge them," the boy said.

His arms and legs stinging from the heat, he played the hose on the trees and embers for 10 or 15 minutes.
Harrowing Flames
It wasn’t looking good. He wasn’t sure what was coming next.

Then a honk. Sirens. Flashing lights.

Three fire engines. Firefighters rushed into the yard and threw high-pressure water at the trees.

"They just went to town on every single flame that was in our backyard," David said. "We probably wouldn’t have a house if they hadn’t come."

Just like that, the situation turned. The house was going to be OK. The block too.

Within an hour or so, the firefighters had gone on to other houses, and David’s mother had ventured out of the driver’s seat. Fox News showed up and interviewed his father and grandfather.

Somebody heard that the In-N-Out Burger on Carmel Mountain Road was still open, just about the only place nearby, so the family raced there for burgers. David ordered a "triple-triple, animal-style," with fries and a drink. When they got home again, the power was still out, the house was hot and smelled of fire, and there wasn’t much to do.

David took a shower in the darkness, then went to bed. And slept for 13 hours.


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15 Responses to A Teen’s Harrowing Stand

  1. Shannon says:

    I still get chills reading the ordeals everybody went through.
    So glad that you and yours were safe throughout it all.
    God Bless,

  2. Gina says:

    Wow… what a story. So many "normal" people becoming heroes when they are needed. It’s amazing and warms my heart to read thier stories. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  3. KatSoup says:

    Way to go David!  We need more kids like this.

  4. Kat says:

    I can’t imagine having a short time to figure out what is "important" to grab of my items.
    I mean the kid and pets is number one…and the safe with important papers and DVD’s of pictures…
    but other than that?? gads….all my books….*weeps at the thought*

  5. ♥ Aimee says:

    wow…what that poor young man has seen…i feel for him…
    *~* :o) if you don’t have a smile to give… :o) I will give you one of mine… :o) *~*

  6. Isabelle says:

    Well, yes that kid was great to stay and help!
    Let’s not take too much time thinking about the books……
    He was very brave to stay there with his hose in hand and try to deal with the palm trees on fire!!!
    Once again the firefighter are doing a great job!!
    But Bob, when will they be able to put down all the fires for sure. Can the firefighters estimate the period of time the fires will still burn? I wish some rain would help here!!!
    I am very happy that you and your family are safe and sound!
    Take care,

  7. Angie says:

    Like I keep saying before- You seem to find the good stories. I’m glad that you stick with stories with good endings for us to read! Dunno if I could handle hearing the others. My heart still skips a beat reading these. I can’t imagine the horror for everyone involved. I am glad that things are on the up and up now, under control and safe again.
    cheers to you !
    take Care!

  8. kb says:

    Time Change
    Don’t forget to set your clocks back an hour tonight!

  9. Jamie says:

    Wow.  I am sorry I haven’t been by to visit much lately.   I had a lot of reading to do.  Things have been pretty crazy around here and I have very limited computer time.    I have been thinking of you and Mrs. S. and praying that you were safe.    I am glad to hear that things are starting to get better and that they have caught the a** wholes that started this mess.   There is just sooooo much damage.  THere isn’t anything they could do to them that would make up for this.   I will keep you guys in my prayers along with everyone affected by this crises.  
    Hugs to you all!!!!

  10. Lena says:

    Yay!  Another happy ending.  I don’t think, in high school, I would’ve been brave enough to do anything like that.  Strike that.  I know I wouldn’t have.  Bravo for David!
    Mmmmmm, I love In-N-Out burgers! 
    Hope you’re having a groovilicious weekend!

  11. Jay says:

    How awful to live through this kind of thing.  I just read the different stories you had posted. Amazing. Can’t imagine living through anything so terrible. Glad you have been safe though. Is there a harder or braver job than that of being a firefighter. I don’t know. Can’t think of any right now. You certainly have to be in awe of their bravery. I pray for their safety. These articles were really informative to those of us who watch it on the news from afar. This brings it in closer and more personal. I wonder about, and pray for all those people who are living through this. Thank you for sharing these stories.

  12. Xu says:

    Fire destroies all.However,I think,it is better than anything else that people don’t lose their lives.
    If we have life of our own,we could make everything again.
    Therefore,all will be fine after some time.

  13. Lynn says:

    Thank you Bob, for finding and showing stories of bravery in every day people, of hope and good news, even among the carnage of what is still happening in SoCal.  Now that it’s not featured every 10 minutes on CNN and other news channels, I think a lot of people believe all the fires are completely out.  If only that were so.
    Bless that young man, his disdain for his books and all (that made me laugh…other than the kids, those would be the first things I would get out).  I’d like to believe my kids would be so brave and helpful during a situation like that but ummmmm….probably not.  I’m so thankful once again the firefighters arrived in time to save another home.
    Heroes, everyone in this story.

  14. Kat says:

    it stole my comment!! ARGH.
    How goes the cleanup?? Anything new in the Serious household??
    Wanna babysit a Mantis? *grin* please?….PLEASE?????

  15. Bridget says:

    When all you hear about on the news is the ‘bad’ things in life, its nice to read about the resilence in people. There are sooo many heart warming stories out there….its good to be reminded from time to time that people are basically good and strong enough to carry on even when life hands out a disaster. ***hugs***my friend

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