Heading home from a long day of dirt-track car racing in Lebanon, Medford resident Pat Green was dozing in the back seat of a truck when she opened her eyes to see fire roaring out of a just-crashed vehicle in front of her.
She and three racing-team members were returning from a competition at Willamette Speedway when a car went off the road and struck a tree maybe a half-mile in front of them on Interstate 5 south of Roseburg.
It was a right-place-at-the-right-time moment for the members of the Medford-based Monte Bischoff Racing team. The car, with two 20-something people inside, crashed shortly after 2 a.m.
The team pulled the male driver from the wreckage and kept the fire at bay until emergency personnel arrived and extricated the female passenger.
"Had we not stopped, I don't think anybody else would have," said Green, 70. "I've never been more proud to be part of anything in my life. Those guys were absolutely amazing."
The team, which finished second at the competition, was returning home to Medford on I-5.
As they rounded a curve near exit 113, the tail lights in front of them disappeared.
"It kind of caught me by surprise. I saw taillights, and then I didn't see them anymore," said 41-year-old Ron Bray, who was driving at the time.
When Bray pulled over, he, 45-year-old Monte Bischoff and 33-year-old Dwayne Melvin leapt from the car.
"One of the guys yelled, 'Call 911,' " Green said. "I said, 'I got it.' "
Records from the Douglas County Sheriff's Department show the first 911 call came in at 2:13 a.m.
"The car was just demolished beyond recognition," Bischoff said.
The men's fire extinguisher wouldn't work, so they went with the next best option: the contents of their cooler. The poured bottled water, sodas and ice over the flames.
"It was just scary not being able to control the fire," Melvin said.
Using a jack, they broke out the rear driver-side window, reached inside and helped to recline the driver's seat back. Then, using a crowbar, they pushed the dash out of the way and pulled the driver to safety.
The female passenger, trapped in the wreckage, was harder to reach. The tempered fire had gotten a second wind, and the men had run out of liquids.
"We started using dirt, whatever we could find," Bischoff said. "We just didn't have enough fluids to get the fire completely out."
A police officer who arrived on scene used a small fire extinguisher on the flames, as Green watched and prayed.
"I was concerned for the guys," she said. "I was also praying like crazy that these people didn't die. I don't know if we could have lived with knowing that they had burned to death."
Firefighters arrived and extinguished the remaining flames. Records show the woman passenger was extricated by 3:26 a.m. The sheriff's department report didn't include names or the crash's official cause. No updates on the conditions of those pulled from the car were available.
More than an hour after they'd seen the crash, the team members resumed their trip to Medford, no longer dozing.
"We just thank God we were there when we were there," Bischoff said. "They would have burned up. There's no doubt in our minds."
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.