A Deer Creek house Monday morning caught everyone off guard.
It took some time for crews to arrive after the fire was reported just before 10 a.m., since the small, unincorporated community south of Rye isn’t covered by a fire district.
Tonto Basin Fire Chief Steve Holt said he wasn’t going to send any crew at first, because he didn’t want to put his district at risk, but he didn’t want to see the rest of the neighborhood go up in flames. However, the next time there is a fire in the community, he likely won’t send any personnel due to financial constraints and the risk of leaving his district vulnerable.
By the time Tonto Basin and Forest Service firefighters arrived, flames had fully engulfed the stucco home at 124 E. Cat Claw Road.
Roundup photographer Andy Towle arrived just before firefighters and said the fire was burning so intensely the home could not have been saved. “By the time I got there, the roof had collapsed,” he said.
At one point, a propane tank on the home’s back porch exploded, alarming spectators standing in the yard, Towle said.
One neighbor grabbed a garden hose to wet vegetation to keep it from spreading.
James Gobel, who escaped uninjured, owns the home. He told investigators he was not at home “when the fire started and has no idea what started it,” said Lt. Tim Scott with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. The cause of the fire will likely never be determined.
The fire spared a fifth-wheel in the home’s driveway, but incinerated everything else, including vehicles in an attached garage.
Although Payson Fire Department heard the call over the scanner, crews waited until the Forest Service called for aid, said Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi.
“They are in no man’s land,” deMasi said. “They are not in a fire district so it is whoever will go, with no one having an obligation to do anything.”
Payson Fire responded at 10:30 a.m., joining several trucks from the Forest Service and Tonto Basin Fire Department.
“By the time anyone got there, the final result was already apparent,” deMasi said.
Both Deer Creek and Rye remain among a handful of Gila County communities that lie outside a fire district.