Fires are decidedly not funny. Especially fires too-close-to-home-for-comfort. But people are funny, and when you get people and fires together, strange things can happen.
As I write this, it looks like we're going to escape the Willow Fire with only our lungs the worse for wear. As Buck Wickham, operations sections chief for the Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team said, "Payson has pretty much dodged the bullet on this one."
So let's take a chance that we're home free and take a lighter (No, Valinda Jo, not that kind of lighter!) look at the Willow Fire. Here are my observations on:
Amazing how many politicians showed up at fire briefings and were generally a nuisance. I'd mention them by name, except that I sure don't want to give them any publicity after they blatantly tried to piggyback on the fire. I'll tell you one thing: they're the ones I'm not voting for.
Amazing how the Valley media controls the show. If one of the Phoenix news crews is running late to a briefing, the world stops until it arrives. And it's also amazing how young the female newscasters are when you see them in person. I'd hate to be middle-aged and in the TV news business. And speaking of middle-aged in the TV news business, a special mention of one who stands out as a class act -- Channel 3's cigar-toting Mike Watkiss.
PAYSON'S BUSINESS COMMUNITY
If you are a business owner in the Rim country, you need to be ready for an occasional holiday that doesn't happen, or even an entire summer that goes south. It's fine to ask for local support during such times, but don't ask visitors to come up here when both we and they are better off if they stay home. As it turned out, more than the fireworks should have been canceled -- the whole darn 4th should have been called off.
How can we criticize the entrepreneurs who seized the opportunity to make a buck when we tried to turn one on a Fourth of July that just wasn't meant to be?
SHERIFF JOHN ARMER
The sheriff took a lot of heat when he advised people to be wary of the smoke when deciding whether to venture to the Rim country for the holiday weekend. It was the lone "discouraging word" aimed at visitors and a much-needed breath of fresh air amidst a chorus of "y'all comes."
SMALL-TOWN RUMOR MILL
All I can say is, "Wow!" Did you hear anything about this fire that didn't prove to be just so much BS? I mean, they evacuated Pine so many times via the rumor mill that the poor people up there couldn't tell whether they were coming or going.
See "Small-Town Rumor Mill" above. Rumors and conspiracy theories are first cousins. "They're about to evacuate Pine, but they don't want us to know." We also faked the moon landing, let Fidel Castro get away with the assassination of JFK, and covered up the crash-landing of a Martian flying saucer. I have just one question: How can we evacuate Pine if we don't tell them?
SMELL OF SMOKE
It's in the air.
It's in your hair.
But don't despair.
Or even swear.
Just say a prayer.
And tell your heirs.
JEFF WHITNEY, ROY HALL AND BUCK WICKHAM
These guys were the faces of the Willow Fire, the trio that explained what they were doing in layman's language so us media people could understand and then muddle it up for all of you. Here's a sampling:
WHITNEY: "We're doing everything we can to suppress it, but 140,000 acres is a pretty big piece of real estate. We're trying to pick our fight, and when we need to we'll take our fight to the enemy. When the fire comes at us and we need to stand, we will."
HALL: "When we showed up here, I thought our possibility of success was 50-50, but day-by-day we've done some things to this fire that have increased our advantage. But I wouldn't say it's beyond 60-40 now. Let's be humble here."
WICKHAM: "Not to worry. Give it a couple days for us to mop it up and Payson will be in good shape."
Those guys are my heroes, but I hope I don't ever see them again.