Monday, July 1, 2013

Yarnell Hills Fire continues to burn as our hearts mourn the loss of the 19 Firefighters killed in this fire.

I was hesitant to write this post because I don't want to draw any attention to myself, but the tragedy that I am involved in right now is so overwhelming to me that I need to write it.  Writing has always been like therapy for me, and today I need it more than ever.

My husband and I live in Peeples Valley, AZ where the Yarnell Hill Fire is burning out of control.  The fire started on Friday and it is believed that it started by lightening during our first monsoon storm of the season.  The area where it started is high in the mountains between the small towns of Yarnell and Peeples Valley.  The rough terrain is covered with chaparral pines, scrub oak, and manzenita's and it is all very dry...the perfect fire-storm just waiting to happen.

From what I understand (from a reliable source) the BLM thought the small fire in the mountains would burn itself out so they sent home some of the fire crew.  Saturday mid-morning we saw the smoke from the fire.  It appeared to be a few mountains over and looked pretty small at that time.  But within just a few hours the wind kicked up and so did the fire.  We watched the fire growing in size and intensity from our front porch in Peeples Valley.  Saturday night it was obvious that the fire was rapidly approaching our community.  We were afraid to go to sleep that night for fear that the Sheriff's office would be evacuating our town while we were asleep.  We don't have a home phone so we would not receive a reverse 911 call (which is the standard practice), so I left our bedroom window open a little so we would at least hear sirens if they were going door-to-door during the night.  We had a restless nights sleep that night, but no evacuation came.

On Sunday morning, after we checked the fire out our kitchen window and it appeared to still be smoking but didn't look too much worse than the night before, I went online and registered our cell phones with the Code-Red system so we would get an emergency call if our location was evacuated.  We thought at that time that maybe they had it under control.  But by about 10:00am the winds picked up and the fire followed suit.  We could see flames cresting the last mountain that separated us from the fire.  The flames where higher then houses that we saw in the distance and the smoke became very dark, building into huge plumes as the fire consumed stands of trees on the hillside.  Earlier on Sunday the fire command center was set up at the Model Creek School which was on the only road in or out of our community.  With the command center set up there we assumed the road out would stay clear for us to exit if need be.

View of the fire from our front yard.

By noon the fire appeared to be getting seriously out of control.  We saw several helicopters and small planes dumping water on the fire but didn't seem to be having any effect.  Then finally we saw the DC10 fly over and dump a massive amount of red fire retardant on the fire line.  We were hopeful this would hold the fire back, but instead it appeared that the fire spread sideways and was now surrounding our small community.   I took the following video at that time, panning left and right to show the span of the fire.

We knew this was not good and I finished packing for our emergency exit that we knew would soon come.  I had my three cats already in the large dog crate, our trucks were loaded, and the grandkids who were visiting had all of their bags already loaded in the truck as well.

Once most of our stuff was packed we were watching the fire to the south and east (two ends of a very wide fire line) of us burning out of control. Then all of a sudden we saw the fire to the south of us flair up and quickly burn towards the school where the fire command center was set up.  They were trying to fight that fire while mobilizing their vehicles and pulling them and the school buses out of the parking lot.  They moved out to the highway & Hays Ranch Road.  Then we got the Code-Red call to evacuate!

The next task was to try and catch my 9 chickens in the middle of the day!  Thank goodness my granddaughter was visiting...she is a 6 year old chicken whisperer.  Most of the chickens will walk right up to her to be picked up, like they don't want to, but know she will get them anyway, so they squawk and hold their heads down while walking right up beside her and stand there waiting to be picked up.  We opened 4 small dog crates just big enough to hold two chickens each, and one large crate for Big Red by herself.  My granddaughter caught two chickens, I caught two, then she helped me team catch four others.  I did my best to put two chickens closest to pecking order in the same crates...good thing I pay attention to these things while spending time with them.  Catching Big Red was another story.  While we were trying to catch her the Sheriff drove up our driveway and order us to get out!  I had to enlist my husbands help...he is afraid of the chickens and Big Red is equally afraid of us, so she was doing anything she could to get away from me.   We made the sad decision to get our other pets and grandchildren out of there, and leave Big Red since we could not catch her.

We ran and loaded the kids, dogs, cats in the crate inside the trucks, and the only room left was in the back so that is where we had to put the four crates of chickens.  I looked back to the chicken run and saw that Big Red was not in the run, she must have gotten scared and decided to hide inside the coop.  This was my chance.  I ran to the coop and pushed the automatic shut button on the ADOR Automatic Door to lock her inside.  Then I went in through the human door.  Then feathers began to fly as she and I went after each other inside the 6'x6' coop.  I caught her!  I then put her in the big wire crate and my husband helped me carry it to the truck.  I put her in the back seat next to my grandson.  She was thoroughly panicked -squawking and pacing around in the crate.  After about 20 minutes with the cool A/C on and my grandkids talking sweetly to her, she did calm down some.

Now that we had all of our pets and grandkids in the trucks we took off.  This was so scary because as we were driving out the only exit road from our community the fire was so close to us.  If it continued to burn much longer it might close off our only way of getting out.  About 15 minutes after we left Peeples Valley the wind shifted with the monsoon storm coming in from the north.  This southern wind was very strong, it almost blew me over when I was pulled over to check on the chickens in the back of the pick-up.  This change in direction of the winds is what pushed the fire back towards the town of Yarnell.  The winds were so strong that they moved the fire so fast that the fire crews were not able to do anything to stop it.

The fire quickly burned into Yarnell and trapped the 19 Hotshot crew members, and burning on into the town of Yarnell, burning a large number of homes.   I learned about the change in direction causing the death of the 19 young men from my daughter who was at home in Prescott Valley watching the news.  She called me on my cell.  I almost could not believe what I was hearing.  My heart felt so heavy, I began to cry for the loss of these young lives.  I have not been able to stop the tears every time think about them.  They gave their lives to save us and our homes.  It is so unfair...their lives were not a fair trade for our homes.  Homes can be rebuilt, but their families will forever be without them.

I am forever indebted to these heroic young men.  Please Pray for these young men and their families.  If you are not a Praying person, then please just take a few moments of silence to think positive thoughts for them.

The fire continues to burn around our home and community.  We are still evacuated and have no idea when we will be able to return home.  My heart is so heavy with what I think might be survivor guilt.  There were so many homes lost and 19 lives ended because of this fire.  My family and my pets are safe (yet scared and stressed) and as far as we know our house is still standing and I feel a kind of guilty about that.

I will probably share more of the fallout of this tragic event in future posts, but for right now, I just needed to share this with someone, anyone, so that hopefully someone understands how so very sad I feel at this moment in my life.

Keeper of 1 husband, 2 grandkids, 3 dogs,
3 cats, and 17 Chickens!
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Did this post stir something inside of you? If so, Please leave me a comment, I would love to know what you're thinking!!!