DILLARD — With his stepdad away on business and his house miles from town and inaccessible by fire engines, 13-year-old William Gurney had to save the family home from a gas-fed fire.
Fortunately, the Winston Middle School eighth-grader was prepared.
Those who know him say the Boy Scout is always that way.
“If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have a house right now,” stepfather Les Hudson said.
Hudson was in Portland supervising a construction project at the Washington Square mall when he learned William put out a blaze with the fire extinguisher Hudson recently brought to the house.
On Feb. 7, Lori Gurney-Hudson was baking a second batch of strawberry cupcakes for her son Paul, 9, to take to that evening’s Cub Scout meeting. William went to the garage and got a fire extinguisher to put in the kitchen because he “didn’t like how the pilot light looked.”
Paul walked into the kitchen, noticed smoke coming from the oven and alerted his mom and brother. William looked over and saw flames shooting from the stove and cabinets.
A leak in the propane line behind the oven was feeding the fire.
William grabbed the extinguisher and trained it on the base of the fire. As per his fire safety training, he told his mother to call 911 and go outside and turn off the gas line, and that he’d take care of the fire.
“I was like, ‘OK,’” Gurney-Hudson said.
He told his little brother to get the dogs outside and get to a safe place. He took family pictures down and pushed the couches away from the walls.
Gurney-Hudson said her firstborn has always been “mother’s little protector.”
“He’s a very calm, cool, collected boy — very rational,” the mother said. “He kept me calm while all this was going on.”
At 5:17 p.m., the Winston-Dillard Fire Department received a call of a fuel-fed structure fire in progress in the 300 block of East Willis Creek Road in the remote woods south of Dillard.
When firefighters arrived, they encountered a tricky approach to the house on the family’s private drive. They feared a wooden bridge wouldn’t support their vehicles. They made the call to not chance driving over the bridge and instead hiked about a 100 yards with their tools to the house.
They arrived to find smoldering embers and the fire all but contained, said Capt. Tom Weiss, who responded to the call.
Weiss said fire extinguishers aren’t good for knocking out structure fires, but in certain situations they can contain a fire until heavier artillery arrives. Here, he said, William was able to prevent a catastrophic house fire.
“It was basically a cleanup job when we got there,” Weiss said.
Although his mother had been making the cupcakes for Cub Scouts, Paul Gurney decided the firefighters were perhaps more deserving and handed them out to the 10 first responders.
About a month ago, William’s old troop, Troop 111, folded and the boy had to switch to Winston Troop 46. He made it to the Troop 46 meeting on the evening he saved his family’s home, but troop leader Stephanie Cooper remembers he showed up about an hour and a half late.
The planned lesson was on fire safety.
Cooper let William lead the group in a discussion of what he’d just been through and how his fire-safety training in Troop 111 prepared him for it. And his peers were rapt, Cooper said.
“It was an amazing coincidence,” Cooper said.
The executive director of scouting in Douglas County, Chris McCullough, said Gurney is being considered for a national award for heroism. The boy’s case may even go before a national committee in Irving, Texas, if he’s considered to receive an honor medal.
McCullough mentioned several instances of local Scouts earning accolades for heroism.
In 2002, Apollo Ruiz of Yoncalla was awarded a certificate of merit by the local Scout office for saving his family home from a fire in a manner similar to Gurney.
And several years ago, three Scouts working on a wood-cutting project in Melrose treated and transported their assistant scoutmaster, Doug Brewer, when he suffered a heart attack. Far from town, the middle school boys had to drive Brewer’s car miles through unfamiliar dirt roads.
The trio was awarded medals of merit by the national Boy Scout office.
William said he knew how to respond due to his Scout training. He’s earned 36 merit badges so far, including one for fire safety. To earn the badge, had to demonstrate an understanding of the physics of fire, how to fight fire and developed an emergency preparedness plan for his house.
William “loves” his science classes in school, hunting and fishing, and playing on the offensive and defensive line on the Winston Middle School football team. He’s active in his church youth group and every Thursday helps out with his little brother’s Cub Scout pack.
He’s not yet sure what he wants to do after he’s done with school but he’d would love to play football for his favorite college team, the Oregon State University Beavers.
His house is located deep in the woods, adjacent to unspoiled Bureau of Land Management property. He and his brother while away their free time riding four-wheelers and using their knot-tying skills in recovering timber.
He said he’s “just happy my house is still here.”
McCullough said he takes issue with people who use the term Boy Scout derogatorily to describe someone who tries too hard to be good. He said for that and other reasons Scouts are “marked,” and have a duty to set good examples in their communities as they grow up.
“When you’re in a tough spot, there’s no one you’d rather have by your side than a Boy Scout,” McCullough said. “They’re prepared.”
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have a house right now.