Nancy Claydon's house surrounded by water

Nancy Claydon’s house surrounded by water during the Aug. 18 monsoon downpour. (Below) Rescuers used Fred Randall’s bulldozer to rescue Claydon and her cat. Tonto Basin firefighter Jack Antongiovanni rode with Claydon across the flooded wash.

What can a burn scar and an intense thunderstorm do to a house?

Tonto Basin resident Nancy Claydon learned as she watched helplessly while water rose where it shouldn't to flood her home after recent rains. Only the quick thinking of neighbors kept her and her cat safe during the Aug. 18 monsoon downpour.

For Lt. Dennis Newman of the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, the rescue represents the heart of Rim Country.

“People willing to act without waiting for someone else are the hallmark of small towns and communities across America ... good friends and neighbors who see someone in need and don’t wait to be asked or expecting the government to correct the problem,” he said.

It’s typical that during monsoons Tonto Basin rancher Lori Brown worries about Tonto Creek flooding her home off Highway 188, but the water came from up the hill on Aug. 18.

“We usually don’t flood from the east, we usually flood from (the) Tonto Creek side,” she said.

Alarmed, Brown drove up and down the highway. Along her route lie other ranches and mobile homes.

She found trouble.

“The water and dirt was going over the road at the Jordenson’s house on Highway 188, milepost 269, north of the Tonto Basin cemetery and I had my husband Bill come out of the fields to help clear Highway 188,” she said.

Brown and her family own a ranch that fills the narrow strip of land between Highway 188 and Tonto Creek north of Punkin Center. The famous creek floods leave fertile soil. Those floods also trap residents on the west side of the creek for days. It’s the Wild West where neighbor has to watch out for neighbor to survive nature’s challenges.

In the summer of 2020, it wasn’t floods, but the Bush Fire that called on neighbors to help neighbors. As the Bush Fire raged across the highway from the Browns’ ranch, they, along with their neighbors Fred and Karen Randall, rustled up six water trucks to hose around their neighborhoods to keep the fire from lighting up homes.

But the burn scar has left a wasteland of scorched earth that sloughs off hillsides devoid of plants. Roots keep soil in place during monsoon downpours. For months Gila County has warned of flooding in the area off the Bush Fire.

As her husband pulled in to help clear Highway 188, she turned around only to see the water rising around Claydon’s house.

“(I) called her and told her I would come get her, but when I went on Pioneer Pass, the wash was raging!” said Lori.

She has lived in the area long enough to know at a certain point, it’s best to turn around in the face of a flash flood. She knew her truck wouldn’t make it.

“I called Bill but told him I didn’t even think the backhoe could cross it,” she said.

So, she called her friend and neighbor, Fred Randall.

The Randalls own Payson Concrete. They have whatever type of earthmoving equipment is required.

Next, she called the Tonto Basin Fire Department. As the chief and firefighter Jack Antongiovanni rushed to the scene, Newman was driving along the highway to check on the rising waters. Lori flagged him down.

Soon Fred and his employee, Sam Gardom, Fire Chief Steve Holt and Antongiovanni, arrived with a Caterpillar 988 loader.

The machine has a huge scoop that came in handy.

“What would have made the going difficult, had it not been for the loader clearing the way, were all the large rocks and debris under the water,” said Newman. “Sam Gardom cleared each wash allowing Chief Holt and myself to drive directly to Nancy Claydon’s home.”

As the rescuers made their way to Claydon, Lori remained on the phone with her “telling Nancy to be ready I had help coming. I felt bad for her.”

As soon as the rescuers arrived, Antongiovanni climbed into the bucket and they took the loader to Claydon’s back porch where she waited with her cat in a carrier. The three stayed in the scoop until they arrived back to safety.

Lori waited and took Claydon and her cat to her warm, safe home.

“She was wet and her cat was frightened,” said Lori.

The next afternoon, it dried out. Lori took Claydon home while her husband cleared her driveway “along with many other of the neighbors’ homes,” she said.

She loves the rain because of the drought, “but not all in one day!”

The support and compassion shown during this rescue is why Newman loves calling Rim Country home.

“In the first eight months of 2021, we have seen snowstorms, fires and floods,” he said. “In each event there are always people going well out of their way to help … some people would call these people exceptional and they are, but I find this being the ‘norm’ … we at the sheriff’s office are proud to serve the great citizens of Gila County.”

Contact the reporter at mnelson@payson.com

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