Rim Country Offers Help To Battle Fire

Tonto Apache Tribe and Safeway team up to send food, water; local fire departments send people


Tonto Apache workers and Safeway employees loaded up a truck with three pallets of supplies, including water, power drinks and toiletries and headed out to Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop/Lakeside where an evacuation center is set up for the Wallow Fire. Loading the truck are (from left to right) Virgil Cly, Kevin Wheeler, Wally Davis Jr. and Brian Echols.

Tonto Apache workers and Safeway employees loaded up a truck with three pallets of supplies, including water, power drinks and toiletries and headed out to Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop/Lakeside where an evacuation center is set up for the Wallow Fire. Loading the truck are (from left to right) Virgil Cly, Kevin Wheeler, Wally Davis Jr. and Brian Echols. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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With the massive Wallow Fire burning out of control in the White Mountains and more people evacuated from their homes, local residents mobilized to provide help this week.

On Wednesday, to go along with donations from Safeway, members of the Tonto Apache Tribe purchased much needed food, drinks and personal hygiene products needed in the Wallow fire area.

The group loaded up their trucks with the supplies and headed out to the Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop/Lakeside, where an evacuation center is set up.

Sabrina Campbell, tribal administrator, said Tribal Chairman Ivan Smith made the call to send supplies based on the huge need for help. Dan Dillion, local Safeway manager, said it was the least we could do and gave accolades to the Tonto Apache Tribe for initiating the effort.

Local fire departments have already sent 32 firefighters and nearly a dozen trucks.

Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch spoke to the Roundup Wednesday afternoon by cell phone from two miles east of Eagar where crews were working on a firebreak.

Hatch said 30 mph winds were making it extremely difficult to manage the fire.

“This is a big one,” he said from a water tender. “We are not seeing conditions of the Rodeo-Chediski with big flames nuking the area, but we are seeing unbelievable high winds.”

Hatch predicted the Wallow Fire breaks all Arizona forest fire records.

“I don’t see how it won’t be the biggest,” he said.

The fire has already claimed one record. With more than 3,000 personnel on scene, it is the largest response to a forest fire in the history of Arizona.

On Monday, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office sent four members of the volunteer posse along with a sergeant and lieutenant to provide security in the evacuated areas, including Springerville, Eagar, Alpine, Nutrioso and Greer. The sheriff’s office in Globe also sent five officers.

“We will assist the Apache County Sheriff’s Office, Eagar and Springerville Police Departments with anything we can and are capable to do,” said Lt. Tim Scott with the GCSO. “Sheriff John Armer spoke with Apache County Sheriff Joseph Deadman and said we will assist if needed.”

The sheriff’s office was first called on for help Saturday as residents began fleeing their homes.

Now with U.S. 60 closed from Springerville to the New Mexico border and Highway 260 closed near Eagar, extra help is needed at the roadblocks.

The Wallow Fire started May 29 and has already burned more than 380,000 acres — the second largest wildfire in history behind the Rodeo-Chediski in 2002.

At least 29 homes have already been destroyed in the blaze with 5,242 more threatened.

Nearly 3,000 personnel are on scene with 24 Hotshot crews and 16 helicopters.

Local fire departments on scene include Payson, Hellsgate, Christopher Creek, Pine-Strawberry, Tonto Basin, Beaver Valley and Whispering Pines. Hellsgate also has a truck and crew on the Horseshoe Fire in southern Arizona. Hatch reported crews work two-week shifts.

Back in the Rim Country, Hatch said he has reserve firefighters covering shifts.

“We are not down on our manpower (locally),” Hatch said.

Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi said with one engine and four firefighters at the Wallow Fire they could not spare to send any more help.

“We are at our max,” he said.

Near Eagar, Hatch reported firefighters are finding it easier to save firewise homes — homes that have brush and debris cleared.

“We are finding the homeowners that have done firewise are all surviving with little effort to keep them and the ones that we are losing have little firewise done around them,” he said.

Gila County has these suggestions for creating a defensible space around homes.

• Clean gutters and roofs of tree debris, leaves, pods and branches.

• Stack firewood away from the house

• Thin out tree and shrub cover around structures and remove unhealthy vegetation

• Thin trees to achieve a 10- to 12-foot crown spacing

• Mow grasses and weeds for a distance of 30 feet from structures

• Dispose of all slash and debris left from thinning

 When adequately prepared, a house can withstand a wildland fire without the intervention of the fire service, Gila County said in a press release. This does not mean, however, that your landscape must be barren.

CLICK HERE for more information about the Wallow Fire.

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