Arizona wildfire: ‘We could lose everything’ is a shared fear

Writing on a restaurant window in Prescott, Ariz., reads, "Thank You Firefighters!! Our Hearts are with you. In Loving Memory. Granite Mountain Hotshots."
Writing on a restaurant window in Prescott, Ariz., reads, “Thank You Firefighters!! Our Hearts are with you. In Loving Memory. Granite Mountain Hotshots.”
(Michael Nelson / EPA)
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WICKENBURG, Ariz. — He doesn’t know if it was God or something in his gut, but he had a nagging sense the fire would only get worse. He grabbed a pair of pants, a photo album and lit out.

“When you’re in a situation like that, you just start moving,” said Dan Risk, 60, sitting in the gymnasium of Wickenburg High School — home of the Wranglers — which had been set up by the Red Cross as a shelter for those who fled the Yarnell Hill wildfire.

For those in shelters in Wickenburg and in Prescott, which is 60 miles to the north, it had been several hours since they had to rush from their homes. Now, they had to wait — and for some, that meant giving their mind license to wander and worry about the fire’s toll.


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Having a smoke outside the Prescott shelter, on the campus Yavapai College, Lynette Carter kept looking at her phone, at the photos and videos she’d captured of her Peeples Valley home just before she had to flee. A fog of smoke filled the air in the distance and flickers of orange peeked over the hills and trees.

“We could lose everything,” Carter, 38, said. “Everything.”

Even animals seemed frazzled by all that was going on, reflecting the fear of their owners. At the animal shelter near the human one in Prescott, the pets had finally settled down by late in the day, when most of the owners and volunteers had cleared out.

“You’ve got a lot of stressed people coming in with a lot of stressed pets,” said Becky Salazar, team leader for the volunteer group Animal Disaster Services, which mobilizes soon after wildfires and other disasters here and cares for the pets who’ve been evacuated along with their owners. (As of Monday afternoon, the tally was 29 dogs, 26 cats, three birds and a rabbit.)

PHOTOS: Yarnell Hill fire

The fire had drawn the community closer together, with charities saying they had been inundated in recent days with donations and people showing up to pitch in.


In Wickenburg, restaurants in town brought food, and the Red Cross set out olive green cots in case evacuees needed to spend the night, but only about 15 people slept in the gym.

Risk relaxed on a couch on the high school’s basketball court, beneath banners of the school’s regional championships, griping and laughing with the man next to him about their luck, both sharing stories of their retreat.

Glenn Taylor, 72, said he and his girlfriend evacuated their horses and four-wheelers before the fire neared. Yet they stayed home. It took a sheriff coming by and telling them it wasn’t safe to get them to leave.

Taylor wheeled off in his 33-foot RV, forgetting his $5,000 dentures and wallet at home. His girlfriend was supposed to be trailing behind him in her car. He made it down the road but pulled over when he couldn’t see her. He turned up the AC and walked to the back of the RV. It was past lunchtime, so he made a sandwich and popped open a beer.

He had sipped it halfway when an officer knocked on his door to tell him he needed drive further to safety. Taylor answered the door, beer in hand.

“Well, now you’re not driving anywhere,” he said the officer told him after he saw the can in his hand.


Taylor, his pit bull Archie, and his cat rode down to the shelter in a squad car. His girlfriend made it to the shelter as well.

“I was wondering who the hell would leave their rig on the side of the road,” said Risk, who had seen the RV on his way into town.

“That was me,” Taylor said with a long chuckle.

The two men have no idea if their homes survived. Taylor says he’s not holding out much hope. He’s been short on information since arriving, only receiving tidbits from friends as they walk inside the gym.

A man who owned a hardware store walked by with his family and said most of Main Street was safe. But everything to the southwest and west had been destroyed.

Risk looked unfazed. He was pessimistic about what he’d be returning to. That feeling in his gut, which hadn’t steered him wrong the last few days, told him it wouldn’t be good. But he ignored it. He wasn’t dwelling on the bad.

“I got my meds, my full belly, and we’ll worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.”



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Special correspondent Phippen reported from Wickenburg and Times staff writer Rojas from Prescott.