Crews Save Forest From Strawberry House Fire

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Strawberry residents held their breath Wednesday as a house fire on Mary's Way sent flames sky high.

As smoke from eight wildfires fills the skies of Arizona, indicating a roaring start to the 2003 Fire Season, firefighters from four agencies battled the blaze. Their efforts kept it out of the trees and away from neighboring homes.

Called in by neighbor Maynard Schneck at about 3:40 p.m., the bright orange inferno was visible for blocks as the fully involved mobile home sent flames scrambling up to 70 feet into the bark beetle-infested trees.

Six Pine-Strawberry Fire Department firefighters, five Forest Service firefighters, four Houston Mesa firefighters and two Payson firefighters put about 6,000 to 7,000 gallons of water on the fire, said fire investigator and engineer Mark Boys.

"We did not want to waste water putting it on the fire," Boys said. The firefighters' first concern was community protection and that is where most of the water went, he said.

Sending embers adrift, spot fires were trying to take hold in neighboring yards.

"If we had not had that little bit of rain, there would have been spot fires all around this area," said John Ward, Forest Service crew boss at the scene.

Unable to search the home for occupants, investigators were relieved to hear from Greg Scoles, who was in the home at the time it went up in flames.

Both Schneck and Scoles reported hearing a loud pop. Schneck, his wife and some friends followed the sound and saw flames and smoke coming from one end of the house.

Scoles was asleep, but was wakened by the noise. He thought it was thunder and went back to sleep. Within moments, he opened his eyes again and saw flames shooting across the ceiling, he told investigators.

Scoles grabbed what belongings he could and tried the door, but it was locked.

Unable to see through the thick smoke, Scoles crashed through the door with his body. That's when Schneck saw Scoles roll out and fall onto the ground.

They called to him, but dazed and scared, Scoles bolted out the back way, Ward said.

Neighbors Arnold and Bernice Gurd heard the large trucks and were bringing their grandson out to see the trucks when they discovered the fire.

"I was so afraid those trees would catch," Arnold said, pointing to the dead trees in his yard, not more than 20 feet from the burning building.

The fire crews were able to prevent the fire from spreading. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

"My preliminary investigation shows an accidental cause," Boys said.

Boys has turned the matter over to the Gila County Sheriff's office.

When they complete their investigation, the property will be turned back over to property owner Larry Stamper of Glendale.

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