TrTrisha Dauwalder-Luna grabbed a shot of the evacuation traffic leaving Pine at 5 p.m. on June 18

Trisha Dauwalder-Luna grabbed a shot of the evacuation traffic leaving Pine at 5 p.m. on June 18. It didn’t take long for rumors on social media to kick up fears about looting and criminal damage to empty homes.

Unable to return to their homes for 10 days because of the Backbone Fire evacuation, residents of Pine and Strawberry feared the worst.

Thousands evacuated from their homes on June 18. That night, the fire roared only two miles from Strawberry.

In the heat of the moment, rumors soon flew around social media of looting, vandalism, and break-ins. Some residents tried to sneak around the roadblocks to calm their fears, while others stoked the flames of fear from behind their computer screens.

By the time the smoke cleared, there were no reports of damage.

“We’ve heard absolutely nothing,” said Lt. Dennis Newman of GCSO. “We had an open house at the Pine Community Center on the 17th (of July) and no one reported anything then.”

Yet during the evacuation, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office received an earful over social media after they instituted a hard closure three days after the abrupt evacuation of Pine and Strawberry on June 18. For the first three days after the evacuation order, GCSO let residents go home to pick up medication or other essential needs. The hard closure made the evacuation all too real and stirred up emotions.

To allay fears, Newman had Tonto Rim Search and Rescue volunteers set up a phone bank to answer questions or send someone out to check on homes and property.

Residents returned home on June 27.

Newman is still happy to take complaints about vandalism, looting, criminal damage, etc., if anyone has a complaint because of the Backbone Fire evacuation.

Contact the Gila County Sheriff’s Office at 928-425-3231 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Contact the reporter at mnelson@payson.com

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