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Media Life: Auburn 49 Fire hero wins big on TV’s “Wipeout”

Construction worker, Placer High grad earns prime-time moment, $50,000; Famed harpist returns to hometown for State Theater show
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Corey Kilroy’s heroism during the 49 Fire has turned into a springboard for some nationwide TV fame and a win on the wacky, obstacle course show “Wipeout.” A 30-year-old Placer High grad now living in the Yuba County community of Plumas Lake, Kilroy emerged triumphant on the “America’s Finest” season finale of the pumped-up, primetime ABC game show. Kilroy had been contacted by the show’s producers shortly after the Aug. 30, 2009, 49 Fire in North Auburn that destroyed 64 homes. Kilroy’s wife’s parents say it could have been 69 if he hadn’t crossed fire lines and stepped from roof-top to roof-top through the night to preserve five houses with only a garden hose and a never-say-quit attitude. Kilroy was the lone construction worker among a group of two dozen police officers, firefighters, military personnel and civil servants taking part in a “Wipeout” tribute to everyday heroes. And the grit and pluck that served him so well in the smoke and flames of the 49 Fire was on full display during the Sept. 14 episode, when he battled through the Sweeper Trees, Moving Big Balls and other padded obstacles to take home first place and $50,000. Still smarting a little from the two cracked ribs he took in a run-in with some of the “Wipeout” equipment, Kilroy said this week that he’s no top-level athlete. He did play some basketball back in high school to help with some of the jumping around he had to do but that was when he was 160 pounds, not the 225 he sees on the scale today. “It’s just a mind thing,” Kilroy said. “I work to the limit on my job, push myself, work crazy hours. I was surrounded by professional firefighters and others who were in top shape. But we’re all people and I have a lot of drive.” LESSON FOR THE KIDS A “Wipeout” fan, Kilroy said he jumped at the chance to compete and perhaps show his four children – ages 13, 10, 8 and 4 – that he could back up the numerous times he had told them “I could do that” as they watched. “Now my 13-year-old son’s friends even call me the Hometown Hero,” he said. “Wipeout” win or not, Kilroy is a big hero to his in-laws Judy and Butch Goucher, residents of the Parkway Drive neighborhood ravaged by the 49 Fire. The Gouchers were visiting their daughter, Charlotte, and son-in-law’s family for a barbecue at Plumas Lake when they learned by phone that the fire had wiped out their subdivision. Arriving less than half an hour later, Kilroy watched as both Gouchers were near tears. The couple’s two poodles were still at the house. Kilroy recalled this week practically not breathing as he ran to the house, found the two dogs and met Butch Goucher about halfway back. Goucher took the dogs and Kilroy returned to work long into the night, aided by Goucher, to keep the hoses on hot spots and water down the tops of houses. “I saw the helicopters and thought that if they dropped their water on me, I was going to be either seriously hurt or killed,” Kilroy said. While other houses in the neighborhood burned to the ground, the five that Kilroy and Goucher stayed with to protect were saved. “If he hadn’t gone back, all our houses would have been gone,” Judy Goucher said. Kilroy’s plans for the money? The California Pavement Maintenance supervisor is thinking perhaps a trip with the family to Disneyland, with the rest going into savings. True to humble-hero form, he’s spreading the thanks around, noting his father-in-law spent long hours in the car the studio parking lot as filming took place. Brother Scott Kilroy took time off from work to accompany him to Los Angeles for the initial audition last year, he said. And Kilroy’s also open for another round of TV exploits. “What I’d really like to be on is “Survivor,” he said. DREAM COME TRUE It’s a dream come true for another Placer High School grad as she returns from her home in Germany to perform on harp Oct. 10 at Auburn’s State Theater. Nancy Thym, Placer High Class of 1970, has carved out a reputation as one of the world’s expert players and scholars on ancient and medieval harp. She said she’s thrilled to be able to perform in a concert venue that was once Auburn’s only movie theater and remains near and dear to her heart. Thym will be presenting a program that ranges from medieval music and Celtic ballads to rock ‘n’ roll and blues. She’ll accompany herself on a variety of harps and will be joined by Thilo Viehrig, on medieval fiddle and rebec. They perform under the name Cantefable, a medieval term for a story that is partly spoken and partly sung or accompanied by music. Tickets and more information can be obtained by calling (530) 885-0156 or going to livefromauburn.com.