VICTIMS OF THE RODEO-CHEDISKI FIRE: TUCSON RESIDENTS OUSTED FROM THEIR SUMMER CABINS IN THE WHITE MOUNTAINS - The Explorer: Import

VICTIMS OF THE RODEO-CHEDISKI FIRE: TUCSON RESIDENTS OUSTED FROM THEIR SUMMER CABINS IN THE WHITE MOUNTAINS

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Posted: Wednesday, July 3, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

When Northwest resident Nancy Groh was told she had to evacuate the summer home she and her husband John had owned in Pinetop for 15 years, she made her goodbye short and sweet.

As others around her were stuffing their cars full of priceless belongings and mementos, the only belongings she brought back to her Tucson home were her mother and a lot of faith.

"We had lots of fun up there and lots of memories," she said. "I had such great faith when I left that we didn't bring anything back.

"I think there was just a lot of hype from the media," she continued, although she did admit she has been glued to the T.V. watching the news for updates.

Their home is not far from the town of Show Low, which the Rodeo-Chediski fire has had its eye on since it has been roaring through Eastern Arizona for the past two weeks.

The fire has consumed more than 400,000 acres in the White Mountain area and destroyed more than 400 homes. As of Monday, firefighters were just beginning to get the upper hand, containing parts of the fire and preventing it from jumping Highway 260.

The Grohs, who estimate their fully-insured mountainhome is worth about $200,000, said they knew there was not much they could do about their home and preventing the flames from consuming it.

"I wasn't about to go out there and stand on my roof with a garden hose," John said. "Mother nature is in control. Do you think the fire cares about what we think?"

John said they had always been warned by Nancy's forest ranger father about forest fires, so they have been somewhat prepared for the possibility that one might consume their home.

The Grohs, who evacuated last weekend, have no idea when they might expect to go back to their home, but they are confident their home will be there.

Others, at least initially, were not so sure.

"We literally said goodbye when we left and cried the whole way home," said Tucson resident Debbie Mlazovsky, who owns a vacation cabin with her husband and her parents in the Pinetop area about eight miles away from the fire line as of Friday. "I don't feel that way now since everyone has been doing such a a great job at stopping this thing."

Mlazovsky said she and her family just finished building their $350,000 cabin after five years of getting it just the way they wanted and have been staying there nearly every weekend.

When she had to leave the morning of June 23, she said it broke her heart.

She said she and her husband had planned on retiring there and in the meantime would spend their weekends enjoying the cooler temperatures and the pine trees that dotted the lot they had so carefully picked.

Instead, she said they spent that weekend walking through the house over and over deciding what they wanted to take back to Tucson with them and saying goodbye to the things they had to leave behind.

Mlazovsky said she decided to take some hand-painted china she was sure would be irreplaceable, some gifts from friends, pictures, "knick-knacks" she had picked up on trips and papers dealing with the purchase of the home, which, except for five years of payments left on the land, is fully paid for and insured.

"We just didn't have the manpower to take everything with us we wanted to," she said.

Mlazovsky said she's not quite sure what she'll be going back to when she is finally allowed back to her home, but said even if her home is still standing, she knows the devastation surrounding it will be severe.

She said that she knew there would always be a danger of fire living in the forest, but never expected a fire of this magnitude.

Both the Grohs and Mlazovsky said they will keep their homes in the area despite the threat of future fires and devastation.

"I think I'm going to see something that looks like a plucked chicken," Mlazovsky said. "That's the best way I can describe it."

ABANDONED PETS REUNITED WITH OWNERS

For some people evacuating their homes in the White Mountains, the prized possessions they had to leave behind included more than just furniture or photographs.

Some had to leave behind their pets, whether they be finned, pawed, hoofed, beaked or snouted.

But saving the day last week were four workers from various animal organizations in Arizona and the United States who performed search and rescue operations to save White Mountain residents' faithful companions.

"We were given permission to enter the home at whatever cost," said Amy Eades, deputy director of the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. "Usually, that just meant bending the screen and popping out the window."

She said people were leaving behind their pets under the false assumption that the evacuation was only going to last for a few hours rather than a few days.

Others, she said, just panicked.

"I had one guy tell me that he had a really small car and he had to fit his family in and there was just no room for anything else," she said.

Once people realized the evacuation was indefinite, more panic set in at the thought of their pets with no food or water, which is when Eades and others moved in to help.

But their reception by the animals were not often met with tail wags and kisses.

Eades said some of the animals were so frightened and stressed, and often hungry, hot and thirsty, that they actually tried to bite some of the workers.

Eventually, though, they calmed down enough to hop into the truck and be taken to a nearby shelter to either be reunited with their owners or hang out until they could go back home.

All in all, Eades said the crew rescued about 70 animals, one shy of the number they were asked to save.

One cat, Chocolate, was unable to be rescued and her status is unknown.

Eades said she and the crew attempted to go to Chocolate's home, but with the heat of the fire and the shifting winds, the firefighters escorting the four rescue workers told them there was no way they would be able to enter the house.

"That one still keeps me up at night," Eades said. "I don't know if that house is still standing. I just keep thinking about Chocolate."

For other evacuees, they can rest easy knowing that their pets are in the safe hands of Humane Society volunteers and staff members down at Reid Park.

As of last Tuesday, the Humane Society has had their emergency shelter set up in a donated warehouse near the park, housing about 40 temporarily homeless animals.

Several companies and Tucson residents have donated hundreds of pounds of food, blankets, beds, food dishes, animal carriers and even fencing to house the pets of evacuees who have sought shelter with family and friends in Tucson but were unable to take their animals.

Chantal Lesmeister, a Humane Society staff member who has been working at the shelter on her days off, said the animals get plenty of walks and are allowed visiting hours by their owners. A volunteer is also with them for 24 hours a day.

"It's been going pretty smooth," Lesmeister said as she organized supplies Friday.

However, one thing the shelter is in desperate need of is money.

"We need as much money as we can get right now," she said.

For more information about donating money or supplies, contact the Humane Society of Southern Arizona at 327-6088 or visit its Web site at www.humane-so-arizona.org.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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