The persistent beeping of Fran and Vernon Crout's smoke detector roused the couple out of bed early Thursday morning in time to escape a fire that destroyed their house, cars and almost everything else they owned.
Bill Hartman, one of the Crout's neighbors in the small Clark Road neighborhood, said the flames were shooting higher than the tops of the telephone poles at 2 a.m. when his dog's agitated barking drew him into the street.
"If that wind would have been blowing last night, it would have burned the whole neighborhood," he said. "It was wild."
The calm, early-morning air prevented the flames from spreading to neighboring houses, Payson Fire Marshal Jack Babb said.
The fire was apparently started by hot coals in a paper bag that had been stored on the couple's enclosed wooden porch, he said. Once the flames caught, the fire spread from the porch to the carport to the couple's manufactured home, causing tires kept on the property and ammunition within the home to explode.
Fran Crout returned to her burned-out home Thursday morning to sift through the rubble with a neighbor, Katharina Crison.
"We lived in our home two months and a week after we came here from Denver," she said. "Payson's wonderful -- the neighbors have all helped."
Earlier that morning, before firefighters arrived, Mr. Crout tried to put out the fire with buckets of water. Hartman grabbed a hose and tried to help.
"They're the best neighbors we've ever had, too, even though they've only been here a short time," Hartman said.
Hartman said he and other neighbors tried to call 911, but their phones were out. Another neighbor finally managed to get a call through and firefighters arrived at the scene shortly after 2:15 a.m. Firefighters treated Mrs. Crout at the scene for smoke inhalation.
"Their first line went to prevent damage to the house on the south side," said Babb.
It took 19 firefighters less than 30 minutes to bring the fire under control. Payson Police, Gila County Sheriff's Posse members and Payson Fire Department Rehab members also responded to the scene.
Mrs. Crout said she was happy that she and her husband and their cat, Toby, escaped the blaze without injury. She was grateful to the paramedics who took care of her. "Boy, were they great," she said.
Babb looked at the charred remains of the east side of the home. "There's not much in this end you can even think about saving," he told Mrs. Crout.
Mrs. Crout said she might be able to salvage some of the furnishings, kitchen items and personal items in the home, as well as their clothes, which were in the back bedroom away from the core area of the blaze.
She said she has had offers for help from the Red Cross and from the Southern Baptist Church, but for now, she and her husband are staying with neighbors.
"I have no idea what we'll do," she said. "I haven't had time to think about it. We still have each other and our cat, Toby, and we still have our clothes. We could have lost it all."
Hot to handle
Payson Fire Department officials remind residents to install working smoke detectors in their homes. Batteries should be checked and replaced at least once every year.
The department also is asking residents to use extreme caution when disposing of coals and ashes from fireplaces and wood stoves.
Homeowners should place hot coals and embers in a metal container when they are removing them from their homes and should make sure the ashes and embers are cold or wet before they are placed in a trash can.