What would you take if a fast-moving fire were lunging toward your home?
Most likely, you’d grab your family and pets, but what about your computer or the Bible?
Most Whispering Pines and Beaver Valley residents proved on Sunday what they value most: Their animals.
Throughout the evacuation center in the Payson High School side parking lot, evacuees sat loyally with their pets hitched up to the outside of their vehicles. Some even kept watch over bowls of fish and cages of rabbits.
Pam Namiki said she’d already lost four of the nine fish she managed to scoop out of the tank at her parents’ longtime Whispering Pines home.
Most residents didn’t have time to think about what to take.
Keith and Becky Friend, who have only lived in their Beaver Valley home since November, said they were clueless.
When Becky looked out over the fire from a neighbor’s balcony and saw plumes of smoke and orange flames, she obviously knew it was time to go. With Keith off at work, she grabbed their two dogs, family pictures off the dresser, her computer and her grandmother’s antique piano books. She also grabbed a few days’ worth of clothes.
After loading up the car, Becky looked back at their beloved home, sure she would never see it again.
By contrast, Beaver Valley resident Gerald Gonzales knew just what to do. Using a list from the fire department, Gonzales grabbed water, clothes, medication and important documents. The only sentimental item he included was a small box of jewelry.
Former volunteer fire chief with Whispering Pines, Jim Karch said he made sure to grab his shotgun and rifle when he heard the call to leave. Then he added his dogs, family photos and suitcase.
However, Karch said he wouldn’t have had to grab anything if his daughter Diane Karch had let him stay.
“I would have stayed because I have been through this before,” he said.
Karch explained he has owned his cabin for at least 44 years and survived the Dude Fire, so he wasn’t afraid of this blaze. If the fire had come close, he would have headed to a pasture behind the cabin and stayed there until it passed.
But Diane was having none of that, as the sky turned red, orange, black and then yellow. “It was the scariest thing,” she said.
Diane watched their neighbors open their corral gates to let their horses get a running start on the flames.
Namiki said the flames were moving so fast you couldn’t tell when they would reach the homes.
“It was incredible,” she said.
Suzanne and Michael Blum of Whispering Pines said as the flames and smoke got closer, the situation grew grimmer. The Blums grabbed a few personal items and left as soon as they could.
They said the thought of losing the beautiful scenery that convinced them to buy there a year ago, was scarier than losing any personal belonging.
Star Valley Mayor Bill Rappaport said he wasn’t able to grab anything from his Whispering Pines home because he wasn’t there when the fire started.
Rappaport was at his Star Valley home when his wife saw plumes of smoke rising from an area near their cabin. They headed up to the cabin, but fire officials turned them away before they could grab anything out of their home.
“This is one heck of a way to meet your neighbors,” he said.
As of Monday evening, the U.S. Forest Service had kept flames away from any structures or yards so everyone should return to full and complete homes.
Roger and Linda Kremeyer knew just what do when they saw the frightening pillar of smoke, since they’d made a list of things to take and packed an emergency “72-hour box,” complete with first aid supplies, water, a sleeping bag, money, rope, cooking utensils, a tube tent, a list of key phone numbers and other emergency supplies. The list included key documents. They methodically turned off the propane, water and electricity before loading the car.
“People were just throwing things into their cars,” said Linda.
“But everyone was very orderly and calm,” said Roger.
Guy Lewis was taking a nap having just come home from a convention, when a neighbor’s phone call woke him.
The 22-year Navy veteran has lived in Beaver Valley Estates for nearly 10 years.
“The phone rang and the dogs were barking and my friend said, ‘there’s a fire by your house.’”
Lewis found himself surprised by his first reaction: He grabbed his Nikon digital camera, remembering his Gila Community College photography teacher’s instructions. “I don’t really know what I was thinking, except that I had to document this.”
He was impressed at the calm and orderly way people packed their cars, as the pillars of flame billowed above the community. The columns of smoke, lit by flames, that seemed about to engulf the community looked like something from a war scene.
He found himself awed by the details of the firestorm, as wind whipped through the swirls of smoke. “I never saw wind behave like that,” he said. “I saw leaves going straight up into the air right off the ground.” Finally, he realized he had to stop taking photographs and get out.
“So I took my medical records, dog food, camera, laptop, clothes, a box of old photos of my children,” including his son with the head injury sustained in Baghdad and his 32-year-old art teacher daughter.”
He also took his Bible and, of course, his two dogs — Karma and Smokey, an interesting combination for canine fire survivors.
Later, he realized that he left all of his books and papers and schoolwork. He also left all his materials for the “diet craze” for which he’d signed up.
“Left all that stuff behind — don’t know if that’s forethought or afterthought,” he mused.