USA — SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz. — Many residents of the White Mountains in eastern Arizona are in limbo as they watch smoke-filled skies to see where a huge wildfire in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is going.
The Forest Service said Monday that infrared mapping showed the fire has charred more than 233,000 acres, with zero containment. The mountain towns of Nutrioso and Alpine have been evacuated, along with scattered subdivisions. Greer is under a pre-evacuation order, and Springerville and Eagar could be next in line.
Arlene Dana, who has lived in Springerville for 18 years, lamented, “When we go to bed, we see the smoke. When we wake up, we see the smoke.”
Having to leave home quickly is constantly on Dana’s mind.
“What am I going to pack, what am I going to take? The first thing that popped in my mind were my important papers and my pictures that I can’t replace.”
She fought back tears as she described her son’s reaction.
“My 5-year-old, his theory for keeping our house safe was to chain the front door. We kept asking, `Who keeps chaining the front door?’ And he goes, `Mommy, I’m keeping the fire away.'”
Dana said, “I told my husband, `If he’s stressing at five, I really have to keep myself in check, so he doesn’t know Mommy is stressing.'”
Dana had to send her sick daughter away because of the heavy smoke. People with medical conditions have been advised to stay indoors or leave the area.
Dana’s other major concern is a brother who is a firefighter. She hasn’t spoken with him since Tuesday.
The Red Cross has set up a shelter for fire evacuees at Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop-Lakeside. Residents of that area, who are still in their homes, are coming in to offer help.
“We’ve got one bedroom available with a queen-sized bed,” said Bill Stalder, who came to the shelter with his wife, Linda. “And if anybody needs to take a shower or wash some clothes, we have a washer and dryer available.”
Other came with offers of places to stay, to take a shower or to leave pets belonging to evacuees.
Kristana Watkins with the Red Cross said people at the shelter “are concerned about what to do, where to go, the next steps to take. When they come here, they’re looking for answers and we’re trying to provide them as best we can.”
Watkins added, “We’re seeing an array of emotion. I don’t think I’ve seen any crying. There’s just basically a lot of concern. I think people just want to know what’s going on. I don’t know how much information’s out there, but that’s basically what they’re trying to obtain.”
Ramona Chavez wound up at the shelter after being forced out of a campground near Luna Lake, just east of Alpine.
She said it was “horrifying. You can’t explain the feeling. It’s like it’s going to come get you.”
Chavez said her family got orders to leave on Thursday, but couldn’t get out until Friday.
“When we were leaving Friday morning, you could see the fire coming down over the mountain,” she said.
Connie McIntyre and her family live in a narrow, steep canyon near the Black River 10 miles from Alpine. When they left, she said, “two-inch long pine needs that were charcoal were floating and and coming down on us.”
Her family was on the move for three days before getting to the shelter.
“We were evacuated out of there (home) Wednesday at 6:05. At noon, the next day, they evacuated us out of Big Lake. At 10 the next morning, they evacuated us out of Greer.”
McIntyre said she is hoping for the best.
“The worst part is that beautiful pristine river may be gone. That beautiful, beautiful pristine forest is gone.”
No definite cause has been found for the Wallow fire, although forest officials suspect it might have started from an abandoned campfire.
“If it were Mother Nature, I wouldn’t be upset,” McIntyre said. “If it were human-caused, yes, I would be upset. If it was just stupidity, that upsets me.”