Becky Accord walked onto a Mesa stage Saturday for the finale of the Ms. Country Western Pageant knowing that her family's house in Freedom Acres had burned down the night before with her dog inside.
Her mother, Emily Accord, put it all in perspective for her: "I told her that a house can be taken away, but what can't be taken away are her goals and what she wants out of life."
Then Emily left Becky behind in Mesa and returned to the little community off Houston Mesa Road between Wonder Valley and Beaver Valley where she found their 6-year-old home a near total loss. Her 15-year-old son Nathan, however, and two of his 16-year-old friends, who had spent the night with him, escaped the inferno without serious injury.
The fire was started by an overturned hurricane-type oil lamp, said Mesa del Caballo Fire Chief Frank Hansen, whose department was first on the scene.
"There was a power failure about midnight, and the three boys lit the lamp and some candles, and then fell asleep," Hansen said.
While the boys were sleeping, one of them accidentally kicked over the lamp, which was on a table at the foot of his bed, the chief said. "He woke up with his socks on fire."
At that point the trio tried to extinguish the fire with water, then with a fire extinguisher that malfunctioned, and finally by attempting to smother it with a blanket. "Lamp oil is just like napalm," Hansen said. "Once it's out of the container, it is highly volatile."
When the boys' efforts failed and the flames climbed to the ceiling, the boys ran to a neighbor's house. The Mesa del Fire Department was dispatched at 4:38 a.m.
"It took 20 minutes to knock the fire down," Hansen said. We saved about half the structure. The two back bedrooms didn't burn, but the smoke and heat damage was extreme."
Both the Whispering Pines Fire Department and the Payson Fire Department were called in to back up Mesa del. A total of 16 firefighters were on scene, eight from Mesa del and four each from Whispering Pines and Payson.
"The boys were very lucky," Hansen said. The fact that one of them woke up when he did probably saved their lives."
People need to be extremely careful with auxiliary lighting like candles and oil lamps, Hansen said, especially in the winter when power outtages are fairly common.
"The same is true of heaters," he said. "There are a number on the market that can be used inside, but they need to be approved for that purpose."
The dog didn't make it. "By the time we found out the dog was still inside, it was just too dangerous to send a firefighter in," Hansen said.
The Red Cross is providing assistance to the Accords who are staying with relatives in the Valley. Once they have met with their insurance company, they will have a better idea what additional assistance they need.
Becky, meanwhile, took first runner-up in the Junior Teen category at the Ms. Country Western Pageant. Sandy Butler, coordinator of the Arizona Rodeo Sweethearts, filled in for her mother when she had to return to the Rim country.
"Her mother called and said, 'Please come down and be with Emily," Butler said.
"She did very well, considering all that was going on. She still went on, and came home with a crown and a banner."