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As Arizona wildfire raced toward town: ‘We’ve got to get out’

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — On Monday afternoon, Dianna Stitt sat on a bench under a shade tree on the campus of Yavapai College, where a Red Cross shelter had been set up — exhausted and enjoying the wispy breeze on a blistering day.

The last day had been a long one, since she and her family rushed — taking only 15 minutes — to gather what they could and flee the flames approaching their home in Yarnell, a single-width mobile home they’d bought just two months before.

“The smoke was so intense,” said Stitt, 47.

“I almost said we were going to hang it out,” said her partner, Thomas Barton, 55. “But then I saw the flames over the hill, and I said, ‘Nope. We’ve got to get out.’”

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They gathered what they could and got Stitt’s grandson and 15-year-old German shepherd, Sandy.

Although they didn’t know for certain the status of their home — they hadn’t seen it with their eyes, after all — they heard it had survived so far.

One of Stitt’s neighbors who had refused to come down from the mountain has been giving her updates. Based on what the woman told Stitt and Barton, they were more fortunate than others in Yarnell.

“It takes a big weight off my shoulders,” Barton said. “We thought it had burned down, the way the fire was coming down the hill.”

They chose to live in Yarnell because it was a placid place, with swaths of homes empty until winter, when the snowbirds flock down.

They lived across the street for two years, renting, before they bought their home, with its ample yard, long drive and dense trees all around.

The community was quaint, said Stitt.

It has a shrine to St. Joseph — a sacred place, she said, a sight to behold. And the businesses, added Barton, were mostly mom-and-pop joints.

“We got a grocery store, antiques stores, a restaurant,” he said. “We had a post office — it burned down, I heard. We used to have a bank, but they shut it down.”

“It has a small-town comfort,” Stitt said.

“It’s like Mayberry,” Barton said.

They both laughed. She sighed. It was a long day, a stressful day, and she said she appreciated a fleeting moment where she could smile.

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rick.rojas@latimes.com

Twitter: @RaR


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