Jules Kwiatkowski was a fire police volunteer for 44 years, including 12 years in Palm Coast.
For 20 years, Jules Kwiatkowski has kept dozens of newspaper articles and photographs depicting the devastation of the wildfires of 1998 in Flagler County. The artifacts bring back memories for him, as he was a fire police volunteer at the time of the fires.
“It was really scary,” he said. “When I saw all the devastation, it was like a war zone.”
For the 10-year anniversary of the fires, and now for the 20-year anniversary, Kwiatkowski’s collection is on display for the public to see at the Flagler County Public Library, located at 2500 Palm Coast Parkway NW, through the end of July.
Kwiatkowski spent about five hours arranging the news clippings and photographs neatly in a few display cases for people to learn more about the fires and the firefighters’ lifesaving efforts, he said.
“My role was to direct traffic and make sure no one went in the area where the devastation took place and just keep people from going into the area,” he said. “We did have some people who tried to get in from the back roads off 95 and stuff like that, but hopefully, we did a good job.”
“I wish I could still be with the fire police, but my hearing went bad so I had to give it up. But once I hear that radio go off, I want to be there.”
- JULES KWIATKOWSKI, former fire police volunteer
As a Palm Coast resident for 26 years, Kwiatkowski takes pride in having helped his town. Being a volunteer fire police is a passion of his. He volunteered for 32 years in New Jersey, and for 12 years in Palm Coast. In ’98, he was six years into volunteering locally.
In a letter about his experience during the wildfires, Kwiatkowski wrote: “It was Saturday, June 6, 1998, at around 12:30 p.m. that I received a call for all Palm Coast Fire and Police to report to Seminole Woods Parkway for a smoky condition to control traffic. I started to get my gear on, but my wife didn’t want me to go as I just had an operation in April. I told her I would just go to see how bad the smoke was and would be right back.”
Kwiatkowski was stationed at Seminole Woods Parkway and State Road 100 to make sure residents stayed away. He recalled homeowners getting frustrated at not being able to get back to their homes.
“We couldn’t tell them if it was damaged or not; we didn’t know until after the fires were under control,” he said.
A day or two after the initial fires, Kwiatkowski ventured out with a deputy to take photos of the destruction, starting his collection that’s now on display.
“All was calm for about three weeks,” he wrote in the letter. “Just your normal brush fires because we didn’t have any rain in quite some time. Then, on June 26, 1998, all h--- broke loose. We had 46 fires all at once, mostly from lightning strikes. All was calm again for eight days.”
Kwiatkowski recalled that on July 2, 1998, a fire that started in St. John’s County flared up west of U.S. 1 into Matanzas Woods, down the B-section and jumped Interstate 95 to the F- and C-sections.
“This was called a dancing fire,” Kwiatkowski wrote in the letter. “One house was destroyed, but the house next to it was untouched.”
He said he knows the city would be even more prepared nowadays for a natural disaster, as the department was only volunteer back in ’98.
At age 83, Kwiatkowski’s desire to be back in the fire police role still hasn’t faded.
“I wish I could still be with the fire police, but my hearing went bad so I had to give it up,” Kwiatkowski said. “But once I hear that radio go off, I want to be there.”