As the Schultz Fire engulfed the eastern mouth of Schultz Pass on Sunday, residents in threatened neighborhoods prepared to evacuate their homes. While the campus was never at risk, several staff and faculty members who live in the area were directly affected.
Those who spoke of their experience shared a common thread—gratitude for emergency workers fighting to keep their homes safe and for the close-knit community in which neighbors communicate with each other.
McCarthy took in the somewhat chaotic scene on Campbell Avenue as horse trailers lined the street and neighbors scrambled to rescue animals. Several people rode their horses out of the area, leaving their vehicles and belongings behind. Police cars patrolled the streets, bringing the orders of evacuation closer and closer to Highway 89 as the fire grew.Stephanie McCarthy, lead multimedia technology designer at the e-Learning Center, noticed the fire on the mountain above her home and received a call from a coworker spreading the word of evacuation at 1 p.m.
As McCarthy prepared to leave her home, she prioritized what she needed to bring.
“When you’re packing for an evacuation, you’re in a weird state of mind,” McCarthy said. “I took my computer, pictures and bare necessities. But you quickly realize that everything else is replaceable.”
McCarthy registered with the Red Cross center for notifications but relied on Twitter for continual updates on fire information.
Andrew Griffin, director of Veterans Affairs and Emergency Management, was at the command center for emergency operation with city and county officials managing the Hardy Fire, which had broken out near Little America on Saturday afternoon. Because the Hardy Fire was within a few miles of NAU campus, Griffin was involved to ensure that university leadership would be informed if the campus was threatened and to activate the Emergency Management Advisory Group if necessary. He visited the command center Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m. for an update then returned home to his family.
Several hours later, Griffin was walking his dogs near his home when he noticed a small plume of smoke rising from the mountain. By 1 p.m., the Schultz Fire had grown significantly.
“It looked like a volcano had erupted,” Griffin said. “The cloud that was rising was huge. I was told later that the fire was so strong it had created its own weather.”
By 2 p.m., Griffin got the call to evacuate. He took his horses to his friend’s house in nearby Doney Park, while his daughter took the dogs to her friend’s house.
Griffin and his wife stacked items on the dining room table as they prepared to load their vehicles. They grabbed toiletries, clothes, medicine, photo albums and documents.
“We discussed taking pictures and paintings off of the walls, but you have to draw the line somewhere,” Griffin said. “Those things could be replaced.”
After everything was loaded, they caravaned out in two vehicles.
Looking back, Griffin says he and his wife took every action possible to prepare their property for a fire.
“Six years ago when we moved in, Summit Fire came to our house and made recommendations for fire safety on our property,” he said. “We followed those suggestions. The Forest Service also performed thinning and a controlled burn behind us two years ago, so we felt like we did everything we could do.”
Louise Brown was working at the du Bois Conference Center on Sunday when she received a call from a neighbor who works with search and rescue operations. Brown, the director of Dining and Card Administration, lives off of Copeland Lane in Timberline. When her neighbor said to expect an evacuation order in the coming hours, she left work as quickly as she could.
When Brown arrived at home, she was surprised by the outpouring of support and concern. People were helping each other prepare and pack. Police officers, firefighters and forest rangers were numerous, offering assistance and guidance.
“The emergency officials bent over backward to make sure everything was OK,” Brown said.
As she and her husband, Dave Brown, manager of NAU’s Skydome, prepared to leave, Brown considered what was most important for her to bring.
“I was packing and I realized it is just stuff,” she said. “I brought the things I couldn’t replace—photos, important papers, but you can live with new stuff.”
Leaving the neighborhood, they saw cars lining the streets as people stood watching and photographing the fire.
“Perhaps the worst part of the experience was the people who came to look at the fire while we’re desperately trying to help each other by shuttling cars to get everyone out,” Brown said.
Genny Wilson, senior internal auditor, noticed smoke coming from the mountain behind her home in Timberline at noon on Sunday.
“I didn’t think much of it,” Wilson said.
Within an hour, she observed that the fire continued to grow and she decided to start packing. By 2 p.m., she was notified by a neighbor of the evacuation order.
Firefighters moved swiftly through the neighborhood, marking mailboxes with yellow caution tape to signify the residents had left.
The smoke-induced darkness created an eerie scene outside as Wilson and her neighbors prepared to flee.
“It is a surreal feeling,” Wilson said. “You lose all sunlight. As we packed our cars, there were people hand-walking horses down Brandeis Way as caravans crawled out of the neighborhood.”
Amid the clamor to prepare, residents offered assistance to each other.
“People were looking out for each other,” Wilson said. “We know our neighbors because we order snow removal together each winter, but this has made us much closer.”
Donna Zimmerman, senior management analyst for Planning and Institutional Research, saw the fire in the morning and watched as it grew. She and her husband were notified of the evacuation at 2 p.m. Sunday. They live between Wupatki Trails and Timberline Estates.
“It hit me hard when I looked up and saw the whole mountain range on fire, from Mount Agassiz to Mount Elden,” Zimmerman said. “From ground level all the way up to the top of the peaks, it was red and glowing.”
Sunlight was eclipsed by heavy, dark billows of smoke.
“Now in daylight it was smoldering and smoky,” Zimmerman said. “[It is] such a heartbreak. Our mountain has been devastated.”