Washington Man Buys His Own Fire Truck to Fight Massive Wildfires: 'We Are in a Complete Disaster Zone'
"Incident commanders held a public meeting where they informed us they had no resources to help our little towns and we were 'on our own'," Alex Thomason, a 40-year-old personal injury lawyer, tells PEOPLE.
Thomason says he knew he had to do something to help the many residents in Okanogan County who could not protect their homes or afford insurance amid the many blazes that have plagued the state this year. So he bought a $5,000 fire truck from a local station, rounded up a group of friends and got to work.
Thomason's own home was evacuated and he was forced to send his wife and four small children away for their safety.
After a four-hour "mini" course from firefighters at Skagit County Fire District 6, and a meeting with prominent smokejumper Jason Ramos, Thomason stepped up to the frontlines, alongside a crew of locals (and the fire truck he named "Clifford").
"We received calls and emails over Facebook asking for help," the father of four says. "We are in a complete disaster zone – I've seen teenagers helping their parents carry buckets of water to fight fire."
Peter Goldmark of the Department of Natural Resources told KIRO TV that the state is seeing a "very vicious fire season" this year, and while there are thousands of firefighters battling the numerous blazes, much help is still needed.
That's where Thomason and his friends came to the rescue.
Since buying the fire truck, Thomason and the crew have fought many flames, he says. As their efforts gained national attention, Thomason says more and more residents have reached out for help.
"At one house, the owners had fled because the forest was on fire around it," Thomason tells PEOPLE. "The owner's son saw this story on the news and contacted us and thanked us."
He added: "We've had dozens of people thank us for appearing out of nowhere and helping them."
In addition to fighting the flames, the group digs fire lines and shovels spot fires.
Although he received only a few hours of training, Thomason, who also appeared on season three of The Apprentice, says he is not afraid to battle the flames – noting his experience with adrenaline sports like motocross and rock climbing.
"Any trepidation I felt was washed away when you see the joy and relief on people's faces when we pull up," he tells PEOPLE. "They feel so relieved to see a 2,200 gallon fire truck pull up just to help them."