Christopher Creek, 23 years ago, was a scary place. On Wednesday, June 27, 1990, the morning sun piercing the heavy smoke overhead was more than orange, verging on red. Those with breathing problems were already gone. Others were leaving.
Sometime during the day, evacuation of folks remaining in Mead-Collins Ranch, Tonto Estates and the hatchery area was finalized. That was where our volunteers were. Tonto Village, Thompson Draw and Kohl’s Ranch were put on “15-minute standby.” With the evacuations came the roadblocks on Highway 260, at Star Valley, at Control Road and at Colcord Road. Highway traffic dwindled to nothing. We were on an island ... with a terrorist.
Late afternoon, the drone of the slurry bombers came closer, just around the west face of Promontory Point. Toward evening folks were finalizing plans ... going east to Heber was thought to be the best escape route. And the big “what if” came up ... what if there’s nothing to come back to? By nightfall, the sky to the west glowed red. At 10 p.m. a call was made to the Double D. Panic in the voice of the unknown gal who answered the phone and the chaotic noise in the background told the story. They’d pulled the plug on Tonto Village! At 11 p.m., GCSO called and the dispatcher advised that the Creek was to go to 15-minute standby at midnight. Furthermore, my job was to inform Red that the sheriff’s office was ordering the gas station be opened ... immediately!
Back at the Landmark, plans were hastily made and implemented. Minor Stephens was put in charge of the bar and the phone ... and the coffee. The lights went on at the gas station. Laurie, from the road crew, headed out to alert the mobile home park and Clayton’s RV park. Candy was to notify residents on Columbine Road and Apple Lane. Creekside trailer park and See Canyon Summer Homes fell to me. Porch lights were to be left on when notified. By midnight, cars and trucks, fully loaded, were arriving at the Landmark. Before morning, there were 20 or more such outfits. Jr. Short had a cooler full of beer, but coffee was all anybody wanted ... 30 pots by morning.
At 1 a.m., a Game and Fish truck parked just west of the bridge. During the night, radio traffic from other spotters had that fire all over the place ... even across 260! It was then we made a trip out of the Creek to a point high enough to see the fire. The flames looked close enough to reach out and touch. Looking at the fire, all surrounding landmarks are hidden in blackness and all perspective is lost. We did see the shadow of the edge of the Rim, the fire coming around a point. We knew if that shadow was Promontory, we were in trouble. At 2 a.m., a sheriff’s deputy showed up to begin evacuation standby notification. Already done.
Susan Keown received a phone call at midnight and raced toward the Rim to evacuate her horse, Shorty. Deanna brought a horse trailer up from Rye to help move horses. Those manning the roadblocks would allow vehicles pulling horse trailers into the restricted area. When Susan reached the Star Valley roadblock, she was able to talk her way through, but was turned back at Control Road. She had to “run” the second roadblock close behind a truck and horse trailer being allowed through.
At 3 a.m., the chaos reached a crescendo with several gals trying to load spooked animals into the trailers. Candy ignored my admonitions and entered an open-topped trailer with her horse, Skip, and nearly had her neck broken! Shorty broke loose when Susan was loading and headed for the corral on the hill. Candy and Deanna trailered Skip to the Dick Lewis Ranch on Colcord. Susan road Shorty to the 13’s at daylight.
Daylight. We were still here. Heber came by with his front-end loader and pushed the 10-cord pile of juniper away from the front of my trailer behind the Landmark. We were called to help load Ellie’s piano. Bright sunshine and considerably less smoke on Thursday went uncomprehended. Frayed nerves and no sleep numbed us to the fact we would learn days later. A higher power had intervened; the weather had changed and was driving the Dude over the top of the Rim. He stayed on the other side of Promontory and the red glow had move decidedly to the north Thursday night.
Thursday night. Creekside was packed with fried people. The parking lot was full of loaded vehicles. Cocktails were flowing. Nobody had come to tell us to stand down. Or maybe it was still too soon to relax. It was over but we didn’t know it ... and that was quite a week in the Creek!
4th of July Parade next Saturday.