A fourth-grade student who evacuated from Bellview Elementary School last month as the Siskiyou Fire slashed through Ashland's hills wrote an award-winning essay on fire safety and got to ride to school in a fire truck this morning.
Sandwiched between two firefighters in the cab, McKenzie Williams, 9, waved at her friends and Bellview Principal Michelle Zundel as the truck pulled up to the school on Tolman Creek Road.
"It was really fun being up that high and sitting up there and looking at all my friends cheering," McKenzie said after hopping off the truck.
About 15 fourth-grade students entered the contest at Bellview, said Zundel, who selected the winning essay.
"I selected it because of her exceptional voice and the way she was able to draw the reader in in the first couple of lines," she said.
McKenzie's essay — which she said took her 10 minutes to write — begins with a description of the chaos a fire can create.
"Imagine scrambling for your precious memories and family photos, shouting to your kids to find the nearest exit, trying to get your pets out the door," she wrote. "Fire is a scary ordeal and there are many measures you can take to prevent this from happening."
The 9-year-old said evacuating from the Siskiyou Fire made her realize the importance of fire prevention.
"I thought it was kind of scary," she said. "A lot of fires happen easily, especially kitchen fires, so that's why you have to make sure to turn off the burners."
McKenzie's mom, Destiny Lynn, said the Siskiyou Fire shook her and her daughter because they live in the Ashland hills.
"I think that it inspired her (to write the essay) but it also brought it a lot closer to home," she said.
The essay contest was designed to emphasize the National Fire Protection Association's Fire Prevention Week, which began Oct. 4, Division Chief Marguerite Hickman said.
"This is a fun thing," she said. "It's a great memory and a great learning opportunity."
Ashland Fire & Rescue plans to hold the essay contest again next year, and hopes all the city's fourth-grade classes will participate, Hickman said.
After seeing McKenzie ride to school in the fire truck, Zundel said many fourth-grade students will probably work hard on their essays next year.
"Having a prize like this, I think they'll be a lot more entries," she said.
Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.