Fire Ravages Forest Home

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A Payson firefighter was injured and a couple lost their home Monday during a house fire in Strawberry in a forested subdivision off Fossil Creek Road.

Firefighters from three agencies battled the blaze and managed to keep it contained inside the house, which was surrounded by forest.

The blaze was reported at 9:50 a.m. by a resident who was passing by the home in the 8000 block of Fossil Creek Road. The resident told firefighters that he saw smoke billowing out of the second-story window.

On hand to fight the stubborn fire, which took two hours to extinguish, were 23 firefighters from the Tonto National Forest and the Pine-Strawberry and Payson fire departments.

According to firefighters, the blaze was tough to control because the 30-year-old home had two built-on additions that created pockets of dead space between the walls.

"It's a common practice," Pine-Strawberry Fire Chief Paul Coe said.

As the fire spread, it traveled up the pockets where duct work for the heater was located, Coe said.

Flames worked their way above the ceiling of the first floor and below the floor of the second story. As the fire gained heat, it dropped dollops of flames into the pockets, spreading the fire.

In trying to reach the indoor blaze, firefighters using chain saws were forced to cut through three different roofs before they could reach a single room.

Once inside, firefighters again were thwarted by the thick black smoke that reduced visibility to zero.

During the battle, a rafter fell, hitting Payson firefighter Gary Lamken on the head. Lamken, who was wearing a helmet, complained of neck pain and was taken to Payson Regional Medical Center for a precautionary examination. He was examined, released and permitted to return to work Tuesday.

In investigating the cause of the fire, crews concluded that the point of origin was probably under a desk in the library in the back of the home, Coe said. Under the desk, investigators found an extension cord that ran through the floor into the basement.

Investigators followed that cord to the circuit breaker and found that it had been tripped, Coe said, indicating that a short in the cord may have caused the fire.

By Monday afternoon, homeowners Ed and Gwenna Eager returned to their burned-out home.

The two said they left Strawberry between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. Monday morning and were on their way to the Valley to take Gwenna's father to a doctor's appointment. They were notified by their son-in-law that their mountain home had caught fire.

After returning to the home, the husband and wife were joined by family and friends who helped them pick through the ashes for the few belongings they could salvage.

Most of their possessions, however, are smoke and water damaged.

Gwenna said she found a few salvageable photos and Ed retrieved his commemorative guns from his early days as a Border Patrol agent.

Because of extensive damage to the interior support walls, the Eagar's think the home is a total loss. But they are considering rebuilding.

"We love it here," Ed said. "I fell in love with this country years ago."

The two will temporarily reside in Gwenna's father's mobile home in Strawberry. They also have a second home in Mesa.

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