The caption that appeared with this photograph in Thursday's Loudoun Extra should have said that these sledders were enjoying a hill behind George Washington University's Loudoun campus. (Published 01/30/2000)
For schoolchildren and many of their parents, this week's snowstorm was a holiday. For an ailing Bluemont woman and her rescuers, it was a long, tense ordeal.
The Round Hill Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department efforts to reach Sue Clark's mountaintop home on Frasier Hill Lane began in the middle of Tuesday's blizzard-like storm, stretched well past sunset and didn't end until late yesterday morning when she arrived safely at Loudoun Hospital Center.
Clark, 77, was suffering from gastrointestinal influenza exacerbated by the cold, and her son-in-law, a veterinarian, was concerned that she was becoming dehydrated. He called 911 about 2 p.m. Tuesday.
"We tried for about 7 1/2 hours to reach her," said Will Brown, chief of Round Hill fire and rescue, who participated in the effort along with volunteers Peggy Childs and Gene Thomas and career firefighter Scott Richardson. "There were snowdrifts about eight feet deep on one of the roads."
The crew of four left the Round Hill station in two vehicles--an ambulance and a brush truck, a four-by-four vehicle with double rows of tires that it is used for tackling mountainous terrain. They headed west on Route 7 into Bluemont and tried approaching Clark's house from the north. But at the intersection of Foggy Bottom and Hollow Oak roads, snowdrifts five or six feet high made the road impassable, said Childs, a paramedic who has volunteered for Round Hill for three years.
Unable to move forward but unwilling to give up, the crew stayed put. They called the Virginia Department of Transportation for assistance--the department will reroute road crews in the event of a fire and rescue emergency--and waited in the cold for a VDOT road grader.
Meanwhile, one of Clark's neighbors on Frasier Hill Lane set out in his backhoe to try to clear the road for the ambulance. But his machine was not equipped with the heavy-duty plow needed for deep drifts, and no sooner did he clear the road than it was covered again by wind-blown snow.
As he labored, a VDOT contractor in a dump truck equipped with a plow arrived, but it wasn't up to the task either, and the driver had to abandon his vehicle.
At that point, the Round Hill rescuers decided to circle back and try approaching the house from the south--on Airmont Road, which VDOT dispatchers said was being plowed. But that, too, proved fruitless, Childs said.
"It was dark," Childs said. "We didn't even think we'd get home. The drifts were just horrible."
Dispatchers in Round Hill, who had been keeping in touch with Clark's family throughout the day, told rescuers that one of the family members was a veterinarian and could administer intravenous fluids to his mother-in-law. He would try to walk out to collect the supplies if one of the paramedics would meet him halfway.
Childs, 41, the mother of six, volunteered. "I was getting depressed that we weren't going to be able to reach her. I thought this was my way to help."
She waded about 300 yards through waist-high snow to meet the driver of the VDOT grader, David Piper. "I'm running across this field, getting blown around," Childs said.
When she reached the grader, there was only enough room for her to ride standing up as they drove about two miles up Ridgeside Road until they could go no farther. To her, the drift that blocked their way looked "20 feet high," and she set out on foot to meet the veterinarian.
When she met the veterinarian on Ridgeside Road, she discovered that the grader had gotten within a quarter-mile of Frasier Hill Lane. She asked about Clark's condition, and Clark's son-in-law said he thought she would be okay for the night, as long as she got the fluids Childs had brought him.
At 8:30 a.m. yesterday, crews from Round Hill were out again, determined to reach Clark.
This time, Piper, the VDOT grader, came with a much bigger vehicle equipped with a "V-plow" made for tackling drifts, said Piper's supervisor, Bob Sudduth, maintenance operations manager for Loudoun County. Piper was able to churn all the way up Route 719, then cut up along Foggy Bottom and Austin Grove Road.
The Round Hill rescuers rode behind and waded on foot the last quarter-mile to Clark's house.
A half-hour later, the grader had made it all the way up Frasier Hill Lane, and the ambulance was waiting for Clark in her driveway.
Clark was admitted to Loudoun Hospital Center in stable condition.
"I'd do it again, because that's what I'm trained to do," Childs said of the rescue effort. "It was definitely an experience."
CAPTION: Buck Rogers, left, takes a break from plowing snow with his tractor on Old Waterford Road to talk with his friend Blaine Lytle, whose pickup equipped with snow tires kept him moving through the storm Tuesday. At right, sledders enjoy a hill behind George Mason University Center near Leesburg.
CAPTION: Paul and Catherine Ginoux and their 10-month-old baby, Thibaud, of Silver Spring, battle the elements at Dulles International Airport.
CAPTION: Shovel in hand, Ry Hartl, of Waterford, tackles a seemingly endless task after Tuesday's deluge of snow.