Ranching families play a vital role in communities like Tonto Basin and Jakes Corner.
They look out for each other.
Fortunately, they were there for their neighbors on Thursday, June 18.
A group of 20-25 neighbors and friends jumped into action as the monstrous Bush Fire threatened several homes in the area.
“If it wasn’t for this effort, numerous homes and property would have been lost,” said Forrest Gressley.
Gressley, a Payson business owner, his wife Tamara and Forrest’s brother, Jake, own Del Shay Ranch, a 200-acre cattle spread just south of Jakes Corner.
They, along with members of the Brown family and others helped supply needed water to protect several homes from burning down.
Bill and Lori Brown and their son, Willie, own Brownsville Ranch and Joe and Shelly Brown and their son, Trevor, J4 Ranch.
Those families filled up six water trucks from Forrest’s businesses Gila Concrete and Tonto Rock Products, and Black Mountain Excavating, owned by Bill, Lori and Willie Brown and JV Excavating, owned by Joe and Shelly Brown. The water tanks on those trucks range from 6,000-10,000 gallons each.
They fed water to U.S. Forest Service firefighters to extinguish a massive wall of fire.
“APS turned off the power around noon,” Forrest said. “Typically, what the Forest Service will do is hook up to house water and put a water tender on and pull water from a structure and fill up tanks and put out sprinklers and water gear to protect houses. But, with loss of power, those wells could not feed the firefighting equipment.
“So, on our ranch properties, we have backup generators on all of our big commercial wells. So we had to fire those up to get water out of the ground and we just filled our water trucks.”
APS communications consultant/media relations Lily Quezada clarified the APS activities.
“Our forestry team at APS works directly with the Forest Service and local first responders to ensure backup and redundant measures (generators) are in place before any public safety shut offs take place. Any and all activity by APS during these public safety events is done at the direction of the incident commander to help fire departments mitigate the fire’s impact and to help keep first responders safe.”
It was quite a busy and intense day.
“It was crazy,” he said. “We just helped them fight the fire until about 10 p.m. at night. It had to be 15 houses we saved. Every structure we were fighting for we were able to save.”
Lori Brown posted on her Facebook page, on Friday:
“It’s raging! Thank god for our water trucks J-4 Excavating, Quality Pumping, H-4 Ranch, Roy Haught Excavating, Black Mountain Excavating, Payson Concrete, or this might have burned up. So far all homes are safe!”
On Saturday, she posted:
“It’s been a long day and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a long sleepless night.”
Later Saturday, she wrote:
“Today the main fire burned pretty hot. Lots of water out of the pond ... Had some cows and calves come into the windmill and on the hill, the boys rode for them they’re pretty confused. Lots of burned pipeline, soon the waters will be empty and if they survive they have to come in.”
Gressley wasn’t looking for praise and just thought the Roundup might be interested in some photos and video he sent. He just wants people to know that he helps his neighbors when he can and they do the same for him and his family.
“We helped out our neighbors,” he said. “The fire came ripping and tearing down through there and the only thing to do would be to help.”
Evacuations were announced for Jakes Corner on Thursday and most people cleared out. But the Gressleys and Browns weren’t going anywhere.
“We’ve got hundreds of cattle, horses and livestock and it’s our livelihood and we have to tend to them,” Forrest said. “We’ve had to deal with this stuff before. You always have little fires, lightning strikes, just Mother Nature. You’re always more self-sufficient owning a farm and ranch because you have to deal with all sorts of problems whether it be flooding, fire, storms. It’s just a way of life.”
He’s lived there for 47 years and this is the biggest threat he and his family have faced in that time.
“This was the biggest and the closest (threat),” he said. “But I’m more concerned for the well-being of others and their livelihood. Our ranch, it’s built for safety. You naturally are constantly cautious about these kinds of things, just because of the size of our property. We’re always keeping the land clear of brush, the trees trimmed, fire lines, access to water on most of our property because we’re raising cattle.”