Tag Archives: fire

Guest Blog: Kathy Montgomery on Recovering From Yarnell Hill

Courtesy of Kathy Montgomery |The second is our communications director Frances Lechner, holding the flag. She stayed with us during the evacuation. We had driven out to Highway 89 to watch the procession of hearses pass by.

Yarnell Hill Recovery Group communications director Frances Lechner holds the flag as she stands along State Route 89 to watch the procession of hearses pass by. | Courtesy of Kathy Montgomery

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tomorrow, June 28, is the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of the Yarnell Hill Fire, which killed 19 firefighters and devastated the Yarnell area.

Makeshift signs, banners and ribbons were the first things I noticed the day my husband and I returned to Yarnell after the fire. Purple ribbons fluttered from fences and light poles. Banners with the number 19 hung from windows. Residents spray-painted bed sheets, planks and cardboard with the words “Thank You Firefighters.”

My husband and I live outside Yarnell but consider it our “town.” It’s where we get mail, visit the library and gather with friends. Gerald sits on the chamber of commerce. We’re active in the community garden. Naturally, we agreed to serve the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group.

But on this trip, we came to help a friend. Gerald sifted through ashes, keeping our friend’s 85-year-old father company while I drove her to the hastily organized assistance centers.

Our friend had moved into her Glen Ilah home so recently she hadn’t finished unpacking. Or getting insurance. Like many of her neighbors, she fled with her father as flames engulfed her home, obliterating all her possessions and means of support.

Once home, she wasn’t sure she could think clearly, know what questions to ask or remember what she was told. I served as her eyes and ears that day.

In Glen Ilah, I could hardly tell where I was, with familiar landmarks destroyed. The phrase “reduced to rubble” came to mind. Everywhere I looked, twisted metal protruded from the wreckage, punctuated by orphaned chimneys and the occasional stone or block wall. I remember thinking this is what a war zone must look like.

During our rounds, our friend collected non-perishable food, a referral to a temporary donation center, two gift cards for $25 each and a bucket of cleaning supplies — intended to clean what, I didn’t know. She had no idea what came next. None of us did. We only knew Yarnell would never be the same.

The fire had left about a quarter of the community homeless. The water co-op, which had struggled before the fire, suffered about $2 million in damage and lost a third of its customers. Fire-related expenses strained the Yarnell Fire District’s budget to the breaking point. It reeled from the loss of a quarter of its tax base, as did Model Creek School, which serves Yarnell and Peeples Valley.

The Shrine of St. Joseph, the area’s only tourist attraction, lost its gift shop and retreat center — damage estimated at $1 million but insured for far less. And the entire community suffered a collective trauma, made unbearable by the loss of 19 lives. Many wondered if Yarnell could recover.

Yarnell and Peeples Valley date to the late 19th century. The area’s first post office opened in Peeples Valley in 1875 and moved to Yarnell in 1892. Yarnell became a mining town — named for Harrison Yarnell, who struck gold near Antelope Peak—and a stage stop. Until Interstate 17 opened, anyone traveling to Phoenix from Flagstaff or Prescott passed through. It evolved into a community of about 650, many of the residents retired. Ranches dominated the broad plains of Peeples Valley. Ranch land still surrounds the community of 430, consisting largely of retirees and part-timers.

In their long history, Yarnell and Peeples Valley never incorporated. Independent and self-sufficient, residents organized fire departments and built a library and community center. So it wasn’t surprising, really, that the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group organized before officials lifted the evacuation, its volunteers drawn from the organizations that got things done.

“I think Yarnell worked because there’s no government here,” says Linda Ma, a former San Francisco employee who served that community after the 1989 earthquake. “[Yarnell] didn’t get tied down in bureaucracy and rules and regulations. We just did what we had to do.”

Even so, any hope of recovery would have been impossible without the outpouring of aid from around the world.

The Yarnell Hill Recovery Group received more than $1.5 million and 50,000 hours of volunteer labor, not counting the considerable hours logged by its own volunteers. The United Way opened a Prescott warehouse to accommodate the gifts of clothing, furniture and appliances the community couldn’t store.

Contributions filled the old round gym in Wickenburg — twice. After the donations committee sent as much to the United Way warehouse as it could hold, the rest was offered for donations at a massive garage sale that generated $6,000 for the recovery. What was left filled two large trucks—their contents sold by the pound.

That’s to say nothing of major gifts to the Yarnell Water Co-Op, the Yarnell and Peeples Valley fire departments and the Shrine of St. Joseph.

Today, our friend and the other affected uninsured primary homeowners are living in houses financed with donations and built largely with volunteer labor. These account for nine of the 42 homebuilding permits issued for Yarnell since the fire — about a third of the residences destroyed.

Some residents left, but more stayed. And the fire brought in new people and businesses. Three shops have opened in Yarnell since the fire. Yarnell Homes owner Mike Manone came as a volunteer and stayed, becoming active in the community. His construction company was the first to break ground after the fire and has rebuilt two homes for insured homeowners. He’s buying lots and developing cabins to market in the Valley.

Yet for all the physical progress, the emotional recovery has been slower, as residents walk through the stages that accompany loss: denial, anger, bargaining. Knowing 19 firefighters lost their lives compounds their sorrow. Many feel survivors’ guilt, and shame for grieving their losses when 19 young men died.

For many, it’s been hard to accept help. That was true for Ma, YHRG’s volunteer-committee chair who now serves on the steering committee.

She recalls inspecting her property with a neighbor when two women asked if they had lost their homes. When they said they had, the women gave them each five $100 bills.

“It took everything in me to give myself permission to receive,” she says. “We just started crying. How could you not?”

“Something happens in a disaster,” she adds. “People drop their self-centeredness, and there’s this openness. We’re transformed. We’re all connected by this experience. And I think the town is forever changed.”

Kathy Montgomery is a regular contributor to Arizona Highways.

Yarnell will honor the 19 fallen firefighters with two services — Sunday, June 29, at 1 p.m., and Monday, June 30, at 4 p.m. — at the future site of the Yarnell Hill Fire Memorial Park on State Route 89 at Shrine Road. For more information, visit www.YarnellHillRecoveryGroup.org.

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Fire Restrictions Take Effect This Memorial Day Weekend

As wildfires continue to rage across Arizona, several state agencies are implementing fire restrictions, effective today, in an attempt to prevent more fires breaking out.

Currently, the Tonto, Prescott and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests are under Stage II fire restrictions. That means the following activities are prohibited in those forests:

  • Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire
  • Smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle or building
  • Possessing, using or discharging fireworks or pyrotechnic devices
  • Discharging a firearm, except during a lawful hunt
  • Using explosives
  • Operating chain saws or equipment with internal combustion engines between the hours of 1 p.m. and 1 a.m.
  • Using internal or external combustion engines without properly installed, approved, working spark arrestors
  • Welding and use of acetylene or other torches with open flames
  • Using or operating motor vehicles off forest system roads, except when parking within 10 feet of a road where there is no brush or vegetation, or overnight parking in developed campgrounds and trailheads

In addition, the Bureau of Land Management announced Stage I fire restrictions for specific lands administered by the BLM:

In addition to the Stage II and elevated fire restrictions [listed above], the discharge of air rifles, exploding targets or gas guns except during a lawful hunt will be also be prohibited on lands managed by the BLM Lower Sonoran and Hassayampa field offices, BLM land in the counties of Maricopa, Pima, Pinal and Yavapai, the Sonoran Desert National Monument and the Agua Fria National Monument. Exceptions and exclusions to fire restrictions in these BLM-administered areas will permit certain limited activities, including:

  • Fires in fire rings or grills provided by officials in developed campsites or picnic areas
  • Smoking in areas with a diameter of at least 10 feet that are clear of brush and all flammable materials
  • Use of devices solely fueled by liquid petroleum or LPG fuels that can be turned on and off in areas clear of all overhead and surrounding flammable materials within three feet of the device
  • Otherwise prohibited activities are allowed if a person possesses a written permit authorizing the activity, as well as in areas where written and posted notice specifically authorizes the activity

The Gila River Fire Department has issued Open Burning Permit Restrictions and Moratorium, which is a community no-burn notice that prohibits outdoor fires typically used to dispose of refuse.

Finally, Grand Canyon National Park said in a news release that while no fire restrictions are yet in effect at the park, caution is still required:

Visitors are reminded of the following year-round fire regulations.

  • Within the park, fires are only allowed in designated campgrounds and may only be ignited in grills or designated fire rings.
  • If you are hiking and camping below the rim, cook stoves may be used, but campfires and other open fires are never allowed.
  • If you are on a river trip, campfires are only allowed in elevated metal pans, and use of a fireproof blanket under the pan is required.

Please keep these restrictions in mind as you embark on weekend trips. We’ll continue to update you with any new restrictions as we hear about them.

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A First-Person Account of the Yarnell Hill Fire

Facebook photo courtesy of DeEtte Bennett Viterbo

Facebook photo courtesy of DeEtte Bennett Viterbo

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cheryl Tupper and her husband, Gary Wallen, own the T-Bird Café in Peeples Valley. After the Yarnell Hill Fire devastated the area and claimed the lives of 19 firefighters, Tupper contacted Arizona Highways to share her account of the fire and its aftermath. Read her story here, and learn more about the T-Bird Café in our November issue.

June 30 is scarred into our minds and our communities. At 2 p.m., we were thinking we’d dodged the bullet, and that the small brush fire I could see out my front door would become nothing more than that. 2 a.m. found me awake, watching a line of the last of my neighbors leaving everything behind them, and praying for the 19 young men on the hill.

We’d heard about the radio call that they were deploying fire shields, and we’d held onto hope. “Please let these young men, these heroes, be all right … please!” cried my friend, shaking.

I was standing outside when the wind changed. It had been a slow, steady wind from the south, blowing the fire into the trap set for it: a break set up to protect the residential part of Peeples Valley. Then, all of a sudden, monsoon winds from the north drove the fire back toward Yarnell at speeds of up to 22 feet per second.

My stepson, whose house was one of the first to be destroyed, says his evacuation was the most stressful thing he’s ever been through. Trying to get his roommate’s freaked-out little dog into the car, he looked up and saw a wall of fire descending on his house. He and his roommates ran for their lives — embers falling on them, fumbling to start the car, neighbors all trying to navigate the smoke-filled, winding path out of Glen Ilah.

Next door, his older sister was getting their mother out. From her perspective, it was a ball of fire coming straight at them. They barely escaped, with singed hair and without the cat.

Then came a frantic call from our youngest, just graduated from high school. She hadn’t had time to get her dogs. She’d tried. She’d borrowed large carriers and had them all set out. But at the end, there hadn’t been time.

Later came the terrible news of the 19 fallen firefighters.

Our home and café were not in immediate danger, so we stayed behind with our next-door neighbors, veterinarians, to help out as we could. They helped care for displaced animals. We fed people until we ran out of food.

Red Cross and Christian and Buddhist relief workers offered immediate shelter and support; housewives collected and distributed donated goods; and everybody with a strong back helped fill the 30,000 sandbags we’ll need when monsoon rains hit our ravaged landscape.

As webmaster for our community website, I worked through those awful first days to transform the site into an emergency resource, so my far-flung community might find some common ground and know where to turn for help.

The communities of Yarnell, Glen Ilah and Peeples Valley (the Tri-Cities, we laughingly call them) will never be the same. According to the sheriff’s survey, the fire destroyed homes at 129 addresses in these tiny towns. But we have already started rebuilding. And while the community has been flung apart, it has also been brought together. My extended family here is now tighter than ever.

—Noah Austin, Associate Editor



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A Burning Issue

Last June, we ran a story about the Wallow and Rodeo-Chediski fires. Now, as more fires burn across our state, the issues of forest management, Leave No Trace ethics and firefighting are raised anew. The entire text of the story is below.

Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 10.56.16 AM Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 11.17.48 AM Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 11.18.00 AM Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 11.18.11 AM


by | June 20, 2013 · 11:21 am

Grand Fire Update

The Grand Fire, burning on both the Kaibab National Forest and Grand Canyon National Park, experienced no growth today and remains at about 480 acres in size. Containment is now at 90 percent. Full containment of the fire is expected early next week; and fire managers have begun releasing firefighters back to their home units. Approximately 60 firefighters will continue patrolling for hot spots, assessing and removing hazard trees along roads, and mopping up. Remaining resources will include two crews and four engines.

“A rapid, coordinated response from both and US Forest Service and National Park Service personnel was key to containing the fire quickly,” said Nick Larson, Tusayan District Ranger.

The Grand Fire, which started on June 12, is located eight miles east of Tusayan, Arizona and 11 miles southeast of Grand Canyon Village, in the vicinity of the Grandview Lookout Tower and the Arizona Trail. Fuels include ponderosa pine, grass and some pinyon pine.

Officials continue to advise the public to avoid the fire area around Grandview Lookout Tower in order to avoid hazards and ensure the safety of firefighters working on the incident. Hazards in the area include burned trees that may fall across forest roads or trails. As a safety precaution, Arizona Trail users need to be prepared to detour off the trail between Forest Road 303 at Watson Tank and the junction of Forest Roads 301 and 310 near Lockett Lake until further notice. All roads and trails in Grand Canyon National Park are open.

Visitors may see fire equipment and personnel in the area. Drivers are asked to continue to use caution in the vicinity of the fire and to watch for and obey any traffic control signs or personnel.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. This will be the final news release about the Grand Fire unless a significant change in fire activity occurs.

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Fire Restrictions in the Grand Canyon

Campfire restriction

Due to continued hot, dry and windy conditions and increasing fire danger, Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim will begin campfire restrictions tomorrow (Friday, June 8) at 8 a.m.  All wood burning fires, including campfires and warming fires, will be prohibited throughout
the South Rim, including campgrounds and residential areas.

This restriction is being implemented in response to current and predicted weather and fuel conditions, as well as corresponding fire danger rating levels.  Both rims of Grand Canyon National Park are currently at Very High Fire Danger; and fire danger is expected to continue to increase until monsoonal moisture occurs.  The restriction will remain in place until significant precipitation falls and fire danger levels subside.

“Given current environmental conditions, any wildfire would have the potential to exhibit extreme fire behavior,” said acting Grand Canyon Chief of Fire and Aviation Chris Marks.  “As we phase in fire restrictions, we reduce the potential for accidental fire ignitions in the park.”

When visiting your public lands during high fire danger, please remember to be fire aware.  Taking a few extra precautions can make all the difference.

>>Before going hiking or camping, check for fire restrictions and closures in the area.  Direct your inquiries to the agency that manages the public lands you are visiting.
>>If you are using a portable stove, clear the area of grasses and other fine fuels and be careful to prevent the stove from tipping over.
>>Consider alternatives to campfires.  During times of High fire danger (and above) unattended campfires are likely to escape.
>>Practice Leave No Trace principles, including packing out cigarette butts and burned materials.
>>If you are driving on unpaved roads, be careful of parking or driving your vehicle in tall, dry vegetation.
>>Hot vehicle parts may start fire.
>>If you see smoke or fire, note the location and report it to authorities.
>>Do NOT attempt to put out a fire by yourself.

For the latest fire information in Grand Canyon National Park, please visit our website.  To learn more about fire restrictions on other public lands in Arizona and New Mexico, please call the Southwest Area Fire Restriction Information Line at 877-864-6985.

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