Residents Prepare To Evacuate Forest Homes

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As gray-black smoke plumes of the Pack Rat Fire loom over Washington Park, residents are hoping for the best, while preparing for the worst.

Full-time resident Judy Rice vows to stay in her home until the end.

"I don't think they'll drag me out of here," Rice said.

Rice is among the 15 or so permanent residents and a variety of weekenders who were notified Sunday night that the fire could force them out of their homes. Residents have been told they will be given 24-hour notice to vacate their homes should the fire cross a "trigger point" determined by forest officials.

That was enough to reassure resident Jerry Buzane.

"It's better than a 10-minute warning," he said. Living in a creek-side, family cabin that was built in 1948, Buzane and his wife, Gayle, have moved one vehicle loaded with family treasures and legal papers to Payson.

"We are going to be a couple of hoboes looking for a place to stay," Buzane said. Friends in Payson have already promised them a comfortable spot to wait out the worst, if it comes to pass.

Rice has met the same welcoming attitude.

"I have been on the phone all morning with concerned friends offering to house my animals," Rice said. She and her husband, Buddy, have two horses and three dogs.

Buzane moved in full-time two years ago and is now a volunteer member of the Whispering Pines Fire Department.

Standing on a nearby hill at about 7 p.m. Sunday, Buzane saw the orange glow for the first time. In spite of his close proximity to the blaze, Buzane intends to stay until the forest officials say go.

"I don't feel it is an unsafe situation now," he said.

Neither do vacationers Bill and Mary Hickey. Bill, a fuels management employee for the Prescott Fire Department, borrowed a friend's cabin.

"It's a vacation to get away from it all," he said. "We will stay until Wednesday if we are not asked to leave sooner."

While they intend to stay until Wednesday, the couple spent Monday morning packing knickknacks and keepsakes to take with them for their friends.

As Bill surveyed the thick layer of pine needles, pine cones and heavy brush that surrounds the cabin, he shook his head in dismay.

"When we come back, we are bringing our chain saw," he said, "From a fuels management standpoint, we're in trouble."

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