Christopher Creek received a wake-up call sometime just after 10 p.m. on the 27th of June 1990. Shortly after hearing Tonto Village was under an evacuation order, a call came to the Landmark bar from the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. They advised us that Christopher Creek would be on a 15-minute standby evacuation notice, effective at midnight. They asked that we send someone to advise Red Armistead that he was under order to open the gas station. Leaving the bar in the capable hands of retired Pinal County Sheriff Captain Minor Stephens, we took the shortcut across Heber’s “dirt pile” to Red’s back door. After pounding on the back door for a minute, the lights in the stairwell came on, and down he came. Red was never happy being awakened during the night, as it usually meant someone was looking for gas. After his somewhat less than pleasant greeting, he was advised of the order from the sheriff’s office. Without another word, he turned and bounded back up the stairs to put his pants on. In the time it took to make the walk back to the bar, the gas station lights were on. We returned to find that Mr. Stephens had enlisted a notification team to go cabin to cabin to alert folks of the standby order. Candy headed out to cover the roads and trailer parks in the Creek and Laurie went to See Canyon homes. Those who had been notified were advised to leave an outside light on. They made short work of it and were back within the hour. By midnight, folks began to arrive with their cars or pickups loaded with essentials. Before long, the parking lot would be full. Information was scant and what we had was unreliable.
After midnight, a truck from Arizona Game and Fish parked along the highway just east of the parking lot. He was assigned as a spotter, which did little to soothe our collective anxiety. At night, a wildfire is difficult to pinpoint. It appears to be closer as the flames may be visible but the landmarks are black. So it was that one radio transmission from another spotter had the fire across SR260 west of Kohl’s Ranch. Unbeknownst to us at the time, that was not the case — not even close.
Alcohol sales were suspended at 1 a.m. and Minor took the job of making coffee. He later claimed he made 30 pots that night. Around 2 a.m., a deputy arrived to advise that the highway was closed to the west and we were to go east when the plug was pulled. We learned then the fire had not crossed the highway. He was here to do a cabin-to-cabin notification and was told that had been accomplished some three hours earlier.
In those days, Tony and Janie had the old Landmark. They showed up with granddaughter, Cody, loaded to go like everyone else. Tony had an ill-conceived plan to anchor lawn sprinklers across the roof of the building but was short of hose. He was told that the masons working on the stonework for the entrance to Hunter Creek Homes had left all their hoses on the job site. At Hunter Creek road turnoff we could see the fire. We collected up some hose and drove on around and up a hill to the lot where Red and Jo were building a home. From there you could see the advance of the fire, which appeared to be just beyond the face of Promontory Butte. But if you would look closer, the fire was, in fact, coming across the face of Myrtle Point and you could discern a faint silhouette of the face of Promontory in front of it. That was somewhat encouraging.
Back at the dimly lit bar parking lot, we found it packed with vehicles and folks at the ready. In the last three hours, they had trickled in. Some came from Tonto Village and Kohl’s Ranch, with many lined up along the highway. Everyone milled about, discussing options and awaiting any news. In the crowd were locals such as Charles and Willene Brynes, Jenny and Eddie, Bill and Margo Holmes, Bob and Sam Conklin, Iris, Old Pat Brown, Clayton and Ellie Ashby, Carl and Helen Palmquist, Floyd and Lois Wilson, Bob and Lila Magness, Marcia, Cook Eddie Hazdra, Gerry and Dick Brown, Al and Delores Dale, Don and LaVerne, Junior and Teresa Short and so many others. Junior packed an emergency cooler of beer, which he reluctantly shared during the night.
The wild night was far from over. We had spooked horses to load and the story of the Creek during the Dude Fire will resume next week.
This past week or so, our CKFD firefighters have had assignments on the Ocotillo Fire near Cave Creek and the Sawtooth Fire in the Superstitions.
Coming up soon is the Firebelles’ annual Community Yard Sale at the fire station on June 20, beginning at 8 a.m. Drop-offs start on June 17.
The following weekend, June 27, the Christopher Creek Homeowners Association Community Picnic is at Milburn Meadow ... and that’s another week in the Creek.