Pine-Strawberry Residents Hang Tough In Face Of Fire


The communities of Pine and Strawberry were under a pre-evacuation alert, but amid the pall of smoke, many fire-hardened residents went about their business undaunted Wednesday afternoon.

Repeatedly threatened by wildfires -- including the Willow and the Webber fires just last summer, Pine and Strawberry residents seem to have developed a fatalistic, yet optimistic perspective.

"The Willow Fire looked much worse last year," Chris Walsh said as he loaded pine needles and other debris into a trailer. "There was constant ash falling. The skies were red. It looked like hell up here. This one's not quite so worrisome yet."

At the fire station in Strawberry, firefighters stood outside watching the sky as they waited for the Cave Creek Complex fire to make its move. One snapped digital photos of the dark red sun filtering through the smoke overhead.

Pine-Strawberry firefighters Ray Groves and Stacy Parkerson admitted they were packed and ready to evacuate. But Parkerson added it was only because they wouldn't have time if the fire jumped the East Verde River and reached the evacuation trigger point.

"If it comes down to having to do something, we can't go home," she said. "We have to be ready before being ready."

Down the road at the senior center thrift shop in Pine, a sign announced it was half-price day. Inside, it was business as usual as eight or 10 shoppers and employees went about their business.


Coping with the smoke blanketing their community has been a challenge for people in Pine-Strawberry. Nico Costanzo of Glendale attended the fire information meeting Wednesday evening with his grandparents.

Capitola Sutter, a volunteer clerk, admitted she was a little afraid, but was taking a possible evacuation in stride.

"I have people I can stay with in Star Valley or the Valley," she said.

Pat Lawson, a customer, said she was packed and ready to go.

"We're just waiting, and, you know, it really doesn't bother me. If it happens, it happens.

"It's hard when the smoke gets bad, because you have a hard time breathing. But if we have to leave, they'll take care of us."

Other customers joked about the irony of shopping for new possessions at the very time they probably should be home sorting through the ones they have. But it was half-price day at the thrift store, and nothing -- not even a fire on their very doorstep -- was going to keep them away.

To some it might seem foolhardy, but it had to be the same spirit in the face of adversity that served the pioneers who settled these two historic communities decades ago.

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