As quarter size ash fell from the sky, Mike Reichling with the Pine-Strawberry Fire District and other officials worked quickly to evacuate Roosevelt Lake area residents Thursday, the Woodbury Fire burning just over the mountains to the south.
The fire started June 8, five miles northwest of Superior, and in the past two weeks has rapidly headed toward Roosevelt Lake, ferociously eating up 112,899 acres. Just Thursday, the fire grew some 15,500 acres with high winds driving it north.
“The fire came over the ridge Wednesday night,” said Steve Holt, Tonto Basin Fire chief. “I could see the flames from Butcher Hook. It’s moving very, very fast.”
A huge plume of smoke hung over the communities east of Roosevelt Dam, casting an ominous yellow glow.
Lt. Tim Scott, with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, radioed commands from an empty restaurant where a makeshift command center had been set up.
After warning residents earlier in the week to prepare to evacuate, word came Thursday afternoon to leave the area.
Reichling, who arrived around 10 a.m. Thursday, said the scene was “intense.”
“The wind was blowing right towards the lake from the south,” he said. “Ash the size of quarters was falling on us.”
Reichling assisted the GCSO and Tonto Basin Fire Department as they went door to door to speak with residents.
“Most people knew the evacuation order was coming,” he said after the county sent out a message through Everbridge Wednesday.
So me 400 people, including those camping at Roosevelt Lake and local residents, safely evacuated. Several people refused to leave their property, Scott said.
Eight people needed assistance leaving and were taken to the shelter in Miami by bus, said Steve Holt, Tonto Basin Fire chief. Crews had been canvassing the area for several days prior to identify anyone who might need help getting to the temporary shelter.
“Everything from 88 junction to 288 junction on both sides of the road are evacuated,” said Holt. “We’re going to continue to man our station in Roosevelt. We don’t know how many have refused to leave, there’s always some. If they refuse to leave they have to sign a waiver and they’re on their own.”
Reichling said many residents had already left by Thursday and those still behind were packing up to leave.
Others were figuring out how to move their pets and toys.
“We had people with one truck and two boats,” he said.
Ranchers who couldn’t get their livestock out were advised to paint their phone number on their animals.
Officials hung a white ribbon on the door of vacant homes.
“Everyone was pretty willing to go,” Reichling said. “They understood. When you looked up and saw that smoke, it was pretty convincing.”
For years, Rim Country fire officials have warned residents it won’t be a wall of flames that overtakes the community, but embers that drift miles from the front, carried by the winds. Those embers will land on homes and yards and start spot fires. If not caught in time, a fire can jump from home to home and eat up a whole neighborhood.
That is why officials push Firewise principles — clean up a yard of debris and vegetation, trim up trees and cover eaves with screens to help prevent an ember from igniting a fire.
Reichling said there was a spot fire from a falling ember off State Route 188 Thursday.
Dozens of crews were out Thursday building lines and conducting burnouts. Crews have laid hose out to protect homes at Top of the World and the Roosevelt area.
“They have their hands full,” he said.
As of Monday, there were some 900 personnel on the fire.
The GCSO has officers patrolling the evacuated neighborhoods to prevent looting, Scott said.
Scott said the last time he saw his patrol vehicle covered in a layer of ash was during the Willow Fire in 2004. That fire charred nearly 120,000 acres and came within four miles of Payson.
“Depending on what happens, hopefully it won’t run through there,” Scott said of Roosevelt.
“Subdivisions on the fire side of the highway are hard to protect, especially those up the mountain,” Holt said. “If it jumps up there, we’ll lose that whole (Quail Run) subdivision.”
On Thursday, rows of white plastic ribbon fluttered in the breeze. The Roosevelt area subdivision Lakeview Estates sat deserted except for one man who stood outside his home.
“I’m going to stay for a while,” said resident Billy Sickmon. He had a blue ribbon on his lamppost, indicating he had not left.
“I don’t think it’s coming here,” he said. “I drove up through Superior today and watched it from both sides. It’s moving east pretty fast. I’m all prepared to leave if I have to. I’m watching, if it gets close I’m out.”
Sickmon said he helped others get five boats out of the area. He and his puppy planned to hang out and see what happened.
Jim West had given up believing in family.
What hope did he have?
He grew up in an orphanage.
He had no birth certificate.
The mother of his children had left him.
He hadn’t seen his daughters in decades.
And his service in Vietnam left deep, slow-healing wounds.
But then, somehow, he met Kathleen Kelly — who believed in soulmates, the power of love and family. So she married him — and so began the transformation.
“When Jim said, ‘I’m a nobody, I’m an orphan,’ I knew he was too special not to have family,” said Kelly.
Her trust bore fruit in May when West wrapped his arms around his oldest daughter after 42 years. She’d been told he was dead — and found him by a fluke, catalyzed by Kelly.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Kelly.
West’s journey to his family started when he met Kelly in Payson. The two married in 2008. Their love of music brought them together. Kelly had played stringed instruments and performed all her life. West had played professionally.
Yet their relationship almost fizzled when Kelly declined West’s first date invitation. She had other plans: Singing Christmas Eve carols at the Payson Care Center.
West surprised her by jumping at the chance to sing with her.
“I told Kathleen, ‘Sure I’ll go along. We used to sing at the old folks home when I lived at the orphanage,’” he said.
That piqued Kelly’s interest.
She asked how he ended up in an orphanage. That simple question took years to unravel as West blamed himself for losing family over and over.
West was born on the Maumee Cherokee reservation in Ohio.
“On the reservation you don’t get a birth certificate, you get a cradle roll,” he said.
The tough times started when West contracted polio that settled in his legs. It almost kept him from ever walking. His 26-year-old Cherokee mother refused to give up hope. She spent many hours helping him walk, holding his hand. Then one day, she collapsed from a brain aneurysm. She died in front of him.
“My mother passed away when I was 7,” he said. “My dad went nuts. Just took to drink and never stopped.”
His mother’s death ended any hope of an easy childhood.
Tough as nails, West’s father refused to let anyone in the family raise West and his two siblings, a brother and sister.
“My grandmother stepped in. She’s the one who arranged for us to go to the orphanage,” said West. “My dad always said he would try to clean up and then come to get us. He always refused to let me and my brother get adopted.”
West’s days at the orphanage were bittersweet.
He learned to walk, then to farm, do carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. “I learned how to grow crops, take care of animals. We raised steers, pigs and chickens. I took care of horses and replaced windows, any labor needed was done by us kids,” said West. There was an old people’s home at the orphanage and the children took care of the residents. That is where Jim met a master magician who taught him the secrets of the trade.
His sister ultimately found a home, but not the brothers.
Things went well until one day, the orphanage closed.
“I was sent to a reform school,” said West.
West won’t talk about those tough years except to say he learned to fight better than anyone.
At 18, the school dumped him out on the streets. He wandered from place to place, sleeping under bridges and getting help from homeless people. He did odd jobs to keep his belly full. It wasn’t easy.
“Since I didn’t know anything about the world outside of an institution, I would go in for a job and I would tell them the truth. I’d say, ‘I spent about nine years doing that,’ and they’d say, ‘Wait a minute you’re only 18 years old.’ So they would think I was lying. The only work I could find was spot labor. Every now and then, a construction company would need somebody and I’d tell them, ‘Look hire me. If you don’t like me after a week, don’t pay me and shove me out the door.’”
As he worked next to people with supportive families, West felt acutely alone.
“The best way to describe it is, if you picture yourself walking on a balance beam that’s wide — it’s not real skinny — and everybody ... they walk and turn around and walk backward and have fun. But when I step on the balance beam I notice that it is hundreds of feet down and demons and everything I could think of was below me. There is nothing there. No safety net,” he said, “I didn’t know how family worked.”
West turned to his music for comfort. The orphanage had taught him to play guitar and piano.
“When I was old enough, I’d go to bars with my guitar. A couple of men would say, ‘Who knows this song?’ and pretty soon I was playing.”
He joined a couple of bands. “It was more of a steady source of money,” he said.
During one of his concerts, he met the mother of his children.
“She hung around one of those after-party things,” he said.
Carrie (not her real name) offered to watch his guitar when he went out to help his brother with something. He didn’t see her again until 1969 when he was nearly ready to ship out to Vietnam, having finagled a way to enlist in the Air Force despite the lack of a birth certificate.
One day, Carrie showed up on his base in Texas.
“She said she was my wife,” said West, “I freaked out. I said, ‘I don’t have a wife. You sure you got the right person?’ And then I had to go into the office and she’s sitting there and I said, ‘Oh well.’”
West then learned he’d get more pay and could live off base if they married. So they did. “The first week we didn’t say one word to each other,” said West.
They soon thawed and Carrie became pregnant with their first-born — Robin — by the time he shipped out. He came home in time to meet his new baby before heading back to Vietnam again.
West ultimately got out of the service and returned to Ohio where they got a house and he got a job. He thought he was living the American dream, finally with a family of his own.
His fascination and skill as a master magician took off. He became “Levram (marvel spelled backward) the Illusionist.” He performed all across America and had a magic shop where he created amazing illusions that were sold all over the world.
But then their second child died of sudden infant death syndrome at 3 months.
It dealt a fatal blow to the relationship, although they subsequently had another daughter.
Things steadily deteriorated and the marriage splintered.
After a divorce his wife took off with his children.
“Her mother told me that she just disappeared,” said West.
He figured they were all better off without him. Some flaw lurked in him, woven into his loss and damage. He was doomed to be alone, still an orphan in the world.
So he sold his magic shop and returned to music.
He ended up in Phoenix where he happened to walk into a magic store. There, for the first time in years, he saw a poster of himself as “Levram the Illusionist.” They even had many of his famous illusions on display for sale. The people at the magic shop recognized him and were thrilled. But the shock of recognition threw him suddenly back in time into a debilitating breakdown.
A friend took him in. He settled down ultimately making his way to Payson where he met Kelly.
Her love saved him. He’ll tell you that up front. She healed the anger and the fear, stilled the mocking, cynical whispers in his heart. She saw through all his defenses, to the lost child, who still believed in magic and love.
Meanwhile, his lost daughters were told their father had died.
But a speeding ticket, a marriage license, and Facebook eventually led Robin back to her dad. Robin and her sister needed information to fill out forms for their children. So they set out in an online effort to find their father’s death certificate. Instead, a speeding ticket popped up. Then a marriage license. Next Robin sent Kelly a Facebook message. She got the home phone number and called.
“We’re eating dinner and we get the phone call and it said, ‘This is Robin ... I think you may be married to my father. If this is true, I just want him to know his grandchildren,” said Kelly.
Many phone calls later, a chance business trip brought West and Robin together for the first time in 42 years.
He learned he has cousins, aunts, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He learned his daughters loved him and his grandchildren care about him.
Now, Kelly and West are saving up money to fly to Ohio to see the whole family.
Turns out, even orphans can go home, if they pass through the doors of love.
Orphans no longer.
Youngsters in Star Valley have a new attraction coming to the community park — a zip line.
The town has ordered a $25,000, 50-foot zip line for the Ronnie and Diane McDaniel Memorial Community Park, specially designed for ages 4 to 12.
It will only be about three feet off the ground and will have a special wood chip surface below it, said Town Manager Tim Grier.
The Star Valley Town Council approved the purchase at its June 18 meeting. Grier said it is hoped the new zip line will be in the park by the middle of summer.
More equipment is also coming to the toddler playground near the large group ramada, Grier said.
He said Chancy Nutt, the town’s finance administrator and Edie Chapin, town clerk, have been discussing a zip line for the park for about a year. Checking with other communities around the state that have a similar attraction the staff learned they are very popular — in fact the one in Show Low is so popular, a second is being added, Grier said.
The $25,000 investment was a little steep for the fiscally conservative town staff and council, so they asked for assistance from the three Gila County supervisors. Each supervisor has constituent service funds available and all three agreed the project was worthwhile, so they all contributed. Supervisors Woody Cline, District 3; Tim Humphrey, District 2; and Tommie Martin, District 1, gave the town a total of $10,000 toward the project.
The new equipment is expected to add to the success of the little park Star Valley built for its residents and visitors and continues to improve.
It is so popular the site’s large group facility is rented every weekend this summer, Grier said.
The Star Valley Town Council approved a $7.1 million budget for the new fiscal year. Staying true to the long-standing conservative approach to its budgets, the fiscal year 2019-2020 budget keeps expected revenue at $1.3 million. The town expects to receive $418,748 in special revenue for FY 19-20.
The biggest increase in the general fund expenses is for the contract the town has with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services. The town spent $426,300 for FY 18-19 and expects to spend $446,600 in FY 19-20. Expenditures are also expected to increase for HURF and Gila County Excise Tax (road) projects.
Star Valley has only three full-time employees and contracts services for two other positions — roads and water. The budget calls for $303,479 in personnel costs, which includes salary, health care and retirement costs.
The budget nets the town a year-end fund balance of $5 million. This is the money the town council can use for capital improvements and other special or unanticipated expenses.
Suggested capital improvements include starting road preservation work with HURF money. Grier said it has been about eight years since any major work was done on Star Valley roads. The proposal is for the first phase and is estimated to cost $130,000.
Repairs and remodeling to the town hall is also a planned capital improvement. Grier said no work has been done on the building since the town took it over. The expected cost is $25,000.
A third project suggested by the staff is putting streetlights on Highway 260 at cost of $100,000.
The council gave its approval to the road work and town hall improvements.
Revoking business licenses
The council directed Grier, who is the town’s attorney in addition to serving as its manager, to research developing an ordinance to revoke the business licenses of those companies within Star Valley’s boundaries that are not paying sales taxes.
The council will not meet on its next regular meeting date, Tuesday, July 2 due to the Fourth of July holiday. Its next meeting is at 6 p.m., Tuesday, July 16.
Contact the reporter at email@example.com
An 18-year-old female hiker from the Valley nearly died of heat stroke on the Upper Springs Trail in Fossil Creek last Thursday.
A group of teenage girls had successfully hiked into the springs at Fossil Creek. However, as they were hiking out, at about one mile below the trailhead of the four-mile trail, the 18-year-old victim became distressed and collapsed and became unresponsive. It’s uncertain why she collapsed because the group still had water.
Pine-Strawberry paramedics were dispatched at about 1:30 p.m. Part of the district’s dispatch protocol when responding to Fossil Creek emergencies is for paramedics to call the reporting party on the trail to get more information of the victim’s condition. In this case paramedics had very early information that they were responding to a serious medical emergency and very quickly requested a response from the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Squad.
When paramedics arrived at the victim’s location, the victim had slipped from apparent heat exhaustion to symptoms of a life-threatening heat stroke condition. The female hiker was still unresponsive and now was convulsing.
Heat stroke occurs when the core body temperature increases to 104 degrees or greater. Once a victim’s condition passes beyond the more common heat exhaustion into heat stroke it quickly becomes a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate cooling (i.e., with ice) and rapid transport to a hospital. High body temperatures also begin to damage brain cells and other organs of the body.
More than 600 deaths from heat stroke occur annually in the United States.
In this case, paramedics were able to use chemical cold packs and poured cooling water on the patient to cool her while bystanders were holding up towels to provide shade.
Paramedics were able to establish an intravenous line and started to get fluids into the victim. They also administered medications to stop the seizures that were occurring.
Because of the inability to rapidly move the victim to an awaiting helicopter, Pine-Strawberry Fire Chief Gary Morris stated, “I believe all of us who were on scene believed at the time we were watching the slow death of a beautiful teenage girl.”
Once the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Squad members arrived with the Big Wheel litter, the victim was loaded onto the litter and carried uphill to the trailhead. A medical helicopter was waiting and flew the victim to a Valley hospital. She was admitted in critical condition to the hospital’s ICU unit.
When Morris contacted the victim’s father the following day, the father stated his daughter was still in the ICU unit and “doing fair” in her recovery.
Currently, rescue missions on the Upper Springs Trail typically average five to seven hours and require a dozen or more members of the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Squad to complete. It is a slow and difficult process to move a victim in a Big Wheel litter four miles uphill.
Most medical emergencies occur along the bottom mile of the trail.
“In this rescue, the contributing factor to the victim’s survival was she collapsed just a mile below the trailhead and was in a helicopter flying to the Valley in about three hours,” said Morris. “Given her critical condition that day, had she collapsed near the bottom of the trail most medical experts would say she would not have survived a five- to seven-hour rescue event.”
The Upper Springs Trail is really an old dirt road, developed by the Forest Service in the 1960s. When this road was open to rescue vehicles in the past, a typical rescue mission was completed in about 90 minutes. Today, the vast majority of the road can easily accommodate a side-by-side ultra terrain vehicle (UTV), equipped with a patient litter. There are a few sections of the road that need to be widened to allow full passage.
Morris said he and Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd have advocated fixing the road to allow rapid response to victims by a side-by-side UTV for five years. On two separate occasions, first in 2015 and again last year, local rescue agencies have offered to fix the road wide enough to allow a UTV to travel the four-mile length of the trail at no cost to the Forest Service. This would reduce the five- to seven-hour rescue period to about 90 minutes, thus, vastly improving any victims’ chances for survival. On both occasions the Forest Service declined the offer.
“The sheriff and I look forward to a future discussion with Tonto National Forest officials on how to create more rapid access to, and more prompt extraction of, victims experiencing serious medical emergencies on the Upper Springs Trail and elsewhere in Fossil Creek,” said Morris.
Chief Gary Morris, Pine-Strawberry Fire Department