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Yarnell residents return home to devastation

7:58 AM, Jul 9, 2013   |    comments
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A retired Yavapai County sheriff's deputy found "a few odds and ends" Monday as he sifted through the rubble of his Glen Ilah home, his belongings buried in a coat of powdery ash.

Richard Mayer, who serves on the board of the Yarnell Fire District, was looking for mementos from his life's journey: Western books, art, spurs and, capping off a career in law enforcement, handcuffs.

"Most of that stuff doesn't hold up to fire," he said.

"You have a wildfire like this, it doesn't have any sympathy for anybody. It takes whatever it wants, and it did."

Mayer and other Yarnell and Glen Ilah residents were allowed to return to their communities Monday, but more than 100 households still have to face up to the damage or destruction of their homes.

An estimated 30 percent of Yarnell residents who lost their homes are uninsured, Yavapai Emergency Management Coordinator Denny Foulk said.

Jerry Florman and her husband, Kurt, 72, are insured.

But that didn't lessen the impact of returning to find total devastation to their home and their 13 acres of property between Yarnell and Glen Ilah.

The vegetation was scorched. Only a few metal pans and clay pots remained intact in the rubble that had been the house where they had lived for a decade.

"It was really barren," said Jerry, 63, who writes a column for the Wickenburg Sun. "Everything of any value was gone."

She said she had already reconciled herself to the destruction, though.

"I wasn't as sad as I had thought I would be," she said.

Jerry praised the organizations that helped her family and others return Monday.

Volunteers from the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and other groups have stepped up to help residents clear debris from their property. Both the Red Cross and Salvation Army plan to be in the area for at least a year to help with recovery efforts.

Chaz Shayne, 63, said his house in Glen Ilah survived the fire with only smoke damage and a light layer of ash on his furniture that swept through open windows. A stinky refrigerator, full of spoiled food, will have to be replaced.

He said he is thankful his home is still standing but sad for neighbors who lost their houses and for the firefighters who died trying to save them.

"For the most part, Glen Ilah is just destroyed," Shayne said from his house during a phone interview. "Everybody's been having a good cry."

Glen Ilah was a flash point for Arizona's deadliest wildfire.

The 19 firefighters who were killed June 30 were working to fight the inferno about a quarter of a mile southwest of the community.

As of Monday evening, the fire was 90 percent contained, with 249 firefighters still assigned to mop-up duties, said Paige Rockett, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.

Shayne said he cleared his property of brush when he moved into his house, about 200 yards from Arizona 89 and near the entrance to the community, three years ago.

The house across the street from Shayne's was destroyed and the lot next to him was burned, demonstrating the random nature of the wind-whipped fire.

"We've seen them leave in tears," Shayne said. "I don't even know how to describe what it looks like."

Arlon Rice, 66, chairman of the Yarnell Fire District board, said he spotted one man sitting on a bucket with his dog at his side, gazing at his burned-out home.

Large trash bins are being brought in to help with the debris cleanup. Arizona Public Service Co. trucks also were still in the area as well as a heavy law-enforcement presence.

At a press briefing Monday afternoon, Foulk said that even though 114 structures were destroyed, he has no doubts about the community's resolve.

"We're Arizonans. Our capital is Phoenix, and I think this is a time to rise from the ashes," he said.

Mayer and Jerry Florman also remain confident that it will.

Mayer, who is living on a friend's property in nearby Kirkland, already is planning to rebuild.

Florman and her husband are moving temporarily into a rental home in Yarnell once owned by her parents.

Her stepdaughter, Michelle Erickson, was helping them move in Monday, bringing a carload of household items donated by her consignment business, A Second Look, in Phoenix.

"I'm grateful," she said about the rental. "It's like going home."

She also noted the foundation of her former house remains firmly planted in the ground.

"It's a good place to start again," she said.

AZ CENTRAL

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