Rising from the ashes: Local man recalls Eureka rescue
EUREKA MEDICS carry Israel Jaure on a stretcher after Jim Christian, now of Diamond Springs, rescued him from a burning building. News clipping from 1991 Eureka times Standard
The story that began for retired Diamond Springs Fire Chief, Jim Christian, on April 5, 1991, continued on April 17, 2011, and the end is still unknown. It is presented here in two parts and italicized sections are Jim Christian’s own writings about the event.
The story began when Christian was a firefighter in Eureka. It wasn’t my normal day to work because I had traded a shift … I opened the back door of Station 3 and stepped inside just as the klaxon in the apparatus room went off. The bay door was already going up and the three-person crew of Jim Ballard, Gary Cahill and Mike Bakke was getting into their turnouts. As soon as the klaxon quit the dispatcher announced. “Engine 1, Engine 4, Tuck 1, Engine 3 3F2, a structure fire, 1122 J Street, reports of children trapped inside.”
I was putting my breathing apparatus on when I heard Chief McFarland over the engine’s radio tell us to go to the south side toward the rear of the building. I didn’t have a portable radio of my own. I wasn’t even supposed to be there.
As I got close to the house, people actually grabbed me, urging me to the side of the house, crying that there were kids trapped upstairs.
There was an aluminum construction ladder leaning against the single story roof. Officer Tony Zanotti of the Eureka Police Department was standing on the roof… I climbed up the ladder. Zanotti grabbed my shoulder as I got to the roof. He said, “ If there is anybody there, they are right there.” He pointed to the window he had just broken. I looked at the fire billowing out of the adjoining room five or six feet away. There was fire at the top of the window Zanotti had broken. The smoke was pushing out hard and fast.
I looked around for the other firefighters from Engine 3. They were close and coming to help me, but I couldn’t see them. I thought I was alone. I remember thinking that I would not get out of this unscathed. I dove head first through the window…The impact partially dislodged my mask from my face and I breathed in a lot of smoke and hot air.I couldn’t see anything. It was dense black and very, very hot.
I was lying on the floor when I heard something that sounded like someone snoring. I straightened my mask and went for the sound. My hands found him, wedged in the small space.. I hadn’t been expecting someone so big.
Fifteen-year-old Israel Jaure was sleeping when a crashing sound awoke him around 7 a.m.
“There were flames everywhere and there was so much noise,” he said in a phone interview with the Mountain Democrat. “I panicked and screamed. I knew there was a way out through the back door of the kitchen and I opened the door to my room. A horrible blast of heat knocked me down.”
Disoriented, his body numb and his eyes burning, Jaure fell back into his bedroom and crawled as far from the fire as he could get. He lay on his back, in a space between the bed and the far wall. His body went into convulsions. “I was flopping like a fish out of water. It was like drowning and being burned at the same time. I kept saying ‘God, help me’ over and over.”
Finally the convulsions stopped and Jaure became acutely aware of his surroundings. ” I could see the flames all around me; I could hear my mother screaming for me downstairs, even over the noise of the fire. Then the pain stopped and all I could feel was peace.”
Jaure says he saw instances of his life unroll before him like a film. “I took the deepest breath of my life and when I let it out, my eyes dimmed, my hearing went away and I knew I was about to die.”
Jaure said he went to a place of total darkness; a lonely void where he had no body. “I called out in my mind as loud as I could. I heard a huge, heavy door open and the sound of thunder.”
Jaure felt himself being lifted and placed on his feet. He fell forward onto his knees into a huge beam of light. “God spoke to me and it was like shockwaves going through my body. He told me about my life, who I was and why I was suffering. Then he took me up on a high plateau and I could see people as far as the eye could see, dressed in clothing the color of lightning. I turned to look at God, but he stopped me. I was upset by this but a man with a shining face said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not your time to see Him.’”
“I couldn’t stand up because of the heat. I grabbed his right arm and tried to pull him toward me. The burned skin on Israel’s arm came off in my glove. I laid across the bed and grabbed his upper body and somehow got him over the bed to the floor near the window. I could hear Captain Ballard taking the window frame out to give us room.
I was dragging Israel toward the window when Mike Bakke came crashing through it. I was never so happy to have someone jump on me in all my life. We dragged him to the window and lifted him gently as possible through it. It was the first time I could actually see Israel Jaure.
Israel was placed on the shoulders of Engineer Tad Sundquist who carried him down to a Medic Unit. He was flown to San Francisco where he spent several weeks in a hospital burn unit. No other children were in the building.
Christian lay on the roof of the building resting, his turn-outs smoking. Then he went back to work fighting the fire. He wouldn’t see Israel Jaure again for 20 years.
Bakke, Ballad, Sundquist and Christian received commendations for their part in the rescue. Jaure’s parents brought a letter of gratitude to the fire department thanking the Eureka Fire Department, which stated, “He has become the memorial of your valor and the thankfulness which we cannot describe.”
Rising from the ashes: Rescuer, rescued reunite in El Dorado Hills
Israel Jaure woke up in an ambulance. “I couldn’t see much of the man in the ambulance, but I heard him say, ‘He’s awake,’” and I heard the surprise in his voice.”
He woke again in Eureka’s General Hospital, surrounded by doctors and nurses trying to enervate him. Then he woke once again, to find himself wrapped like a mummy. He could hear the engine of the plane flying him from Eureka to San Francisco. In St. Francis Memorial Hospital, Jaure woke once more, in a big metal tub of hot water this time. Again medical staff were surprised at his waking. “The air smelled like bleach and I lifted my hand to look at it and I could see my veins and muscles. It was horrible.”
Israel suffered first and second degree burns on 22 percent of his body and doctors grafted skin from his back and hips onto his hands and left leg.
“I was a boxer and felt that nothing could hurt me, so I was into drinking with my friends and partying,” said Jaure. ” Then I was burned and scarred; my friends looked at me with pity in their eyes. It was a pretty humbling experience and a dark time for me. It took years to recover. I coughed up soot for a year and my hair fell out when my skin started to regrow. I was angry.”
The grueling day-to-day recovery pushed his amazing spiritual experience during the fire into the background and Jaure admits to years of anger, wondering why this had happened to him. His parents moved the family to Arizona two years after the fire. The girl he’d been dating at the time of the fire in Eureka, Tracy O’Hara, had been at the scene of the fire and witnessed the rescue. She stuck by Jaure and they eventually married. They became the parents of six healthy children — the oldest daughter of their five girls is 16, and their youngest child, a boy, is almost 3. Tracy, 34, home-schools all the children. Israel, 35, changed the direction of his life and became a corrections officer working with maximum security prisoners for Pima County in Arizona.
Christian, now 59, moved to El Dorado County in September of 1991, five months after the fire, becoming assistant fire chief for Diamond Springs ,and after his retirement as fire chief in 2003, a fire management consultant and division supervisor on the Northern California Interagency Incident Management Team. Most recently, he oversaw the application of the Incident Command System to the recovery process at the San Bruno pipeline explosion.
Of the Jaure fire he said, “It made such an impact on me. I’d been in peril in other fires, but not by my own choice. Firemen get to do really cool things, but when the time comes to step off the abyss and you don’t know if you will be coming back, will you do it? I thought I was alone and I was scared to death. I made the decision to go in because if there was a kid in there and I didn’t go in, how would I live with myself?
“I thought about the incident every day and I put a photo of the house on my desk when I became assistant chief to remind me of where I came from and what firefighters are supposed to do. I wondered what kind of person Israel was. I knew he had been in continuation school. Had he become a good guy or not?” Eventually, to help himself process the impact of the event, he wrote an accounting of the fire and the rescue.
Christian told few about the incident that impacted him, but this year, 20 years after the fire, he shared his story with a friend and admitted that he had always wondered what happened to Israel. The friend did some Internet research and returned with two possibilities for Israel Jaure. Christian checked them out and one of them led to Tracy O’Hara Jaure’s Facebook page. He e-mailed her, asking if she were the wife of Israel Jaure of Eureka who had been in a fire 20 years earlier. When Tracy replied in the affirmative, Christian told her he had been involved in the rescue.
“It was my day off, ” Israel Jaure remembered. “She told me, ‘You’ll never believe who e-mailed me.’” Jaure e-mailed Christian back thanking him for whatever part he had played in the rescue. “I never expected him to be the guy who came in and got me.” The two exchanged phone numbers.
“He told me to call him anytime, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to intrude,” said Christian. Finally, he made the call and the two shared the details of the fire with each other in an emotional conversation.
On the weekend of April 17, the Jaure family came to California to visit Tracy’s father in Valley Springs and made a five-hour stopover at Jim and Elaine Christian’s home in El Dorado Hills. Both men said they felt an instant connection.
“I felt like I was going to visit my second father, one I had never met,” said Jaure. “It blew me away that I got to see the man who saved me.”
“They were like family we hadn’t met yet,” said Christian.”It was the most amazing and cathartic thing that happened to me in a long time.”
As a surprise for Jaure and his family, Christian had asked his friend, retiring firefighter Mike Wilson of the El Dorado Hills station, to drive the ladder truck by his home . On his last run as a firefighter, Wilson brought Station Truck 85 to show Jaure’s children. They knew the story of the fire and their father’s spiritual experience. ”I wanted them to know that there is something bigger; something beyond going to work everyday,” said Jaure.
Jaure had a surprise for Christian too — a silver pocket watch engraved with Christian’s name and “April 5, 1991,” the date of the fire. “Then he rolled up his sleeve and showed me the tattoo, ” said Christian, “I was trying not to lose it, but my wife looked and burst into tears and that was it.”
The tattoo on Jaure’s right bicep is new. “I wanted to do something for him,” said Jaure. The black ink tattoo is a large Maltese Cross with a pair of crossed fire axes in the middle. “April 5, 1991″ is tattooed above and below the axes and the words, ” James”, ” Christian,” ”Fire” and “Dept.” fill the arms of the cross.
For both men the reunion was a powerful experience.
“It was like a reminder of what God had promised me that day,”said Jaure.” I’ve had 20 years of life, we have six children and I am big and strong enough to deal with the prisoners on my job. I realized that God sees far and he was truly looking out for my interests.”
For Christian, it was all about redemption. “I’m not a perfect guy, but in the low times, I remembered that I had done something good once and it sustained me. To find out that Israel is a nice guy with a great family meant a lot.”
Both men declare their intention to keep in contact. “This is a lifelong connection,” said Jaure. When Jaure’s 16-year-old daughter thanked Christian for her life, it was the first time he realized the far-reaching impacts of what had happened during that fire 20 years earlier.
“The vast majority of people don’t come back to tell you what happened to them after they survive. I’m glad I know it was a good outcome,” said Christian.