'A hallway of flames' and a vortex of fire

2011-06-17T00:00:00Z 2011-06-18T00:00:11Z 'A hallway of flames' and a vortex of fire Arizona Daily Star
June 17, 2011 12:00 am

It was a day of strange sights and close calls for some residents caught up in the Monument Fire's fast and damaging run through the Hereford area.

Officials said no lives have been lost and there have been no reports of any serious injuries to residents or fire crews.

But for some, the day brought fear of what might be gone, harrowing escapes and hopeful determination that hard work won't be lost to the encroaching flames.

Fire vortex

Joe Gandara and friends saw an amazing site Thursday afternoon as they watched the fire from their rooftop south of Sierra Vista.

After the flames crossed Arizona 92 in the Three Canyons area, the fire got caught in a dust devil and a towering vortex of flame formed, said Gandara, whose home is not under an evacuation order.

"It was easily 100 or 200 feet tall," he said, speaking on the phone from his rooftop on Dakota Road, north of Hereford Road. "The wind was blowing so hard it kept it up for about a mile."

From their vantage point, the fire moved east in the area of Three Canyons road, which runs east-west about two miles south of Hereford Road.

In comparison with the fire to the south, the flames on the Huachuca Mountains to the west looked relatively tame, Gandara said.

"It looks more like it's smoldering on the mountains," he said.

Close call

Shortly before an afternoon emergency meeting of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, Chairman Pat Call drove straight into the heart of the emergency.

Driving a county-owned Chevrolet Tahoe, Call was heading north on Arizona 92 when the smoke began to thicken in the area of Stump Canyon Road. Firefighters were in the area and he stopped, but then heard from a friend farther north, beyond the smoke, who needed help.

Call followed another emergency vehicle into the unknown.

"I figured, 'What the hell - how bad could it be?' " Call said in a telephone interview.

Then he found out.

"At about Three Canyons (Road), there were 30- to 40-foot flames on both sides of the highway," Call said.

The black smoke closed like a door behind them.

"We were in a sort of hallway of flames," Call said.

"The heat was so intense that the windows were too hot to touch," he said.

The drivers turned their vehicles around but couldn't flee fast because of the thick smoke, Call said.

"Long story short, we made it," Call said.

"There were deer running across the road trying to get away from the fire," he said. "I should have been as smart as the deer."

Waiting to return

For Carl Coalson, 73, a part-time contractor at Fort Huachuca, it was a quick escape from the flames and then a long wait wondering about his home.

By late Wednesday afternoon, he was trying to get back to his place on Valley Vista Drive, east of Arizona 92.

"The flames came through two hours ago," he said, "and I left two hours ago. I'm nervous. I have five acres down there."

Hoping to stay

Meanwhile, Narciso Altamirano, 26, was staying put at the home where he lives with his wife, Marra, and uncle, Juan Parra.

He said they were told to prepare to evacuate from their home, which is on Nevada Street about a mile south of Ramsey Road.

As of early evening, the family was hoping they would be able to stay.

But what Altamirano saw earlier in the day from a distance worried him. He said he saw the fire moving east quickly, with flames shooting 40 feet into the air.

"We're trying to hold on to our house," he said. We've worked hard for this."

The family has lived there for about 14 years.

Gov. to tour fire sites

Gov. Jan Brewer will visit the shelter at Apache Middle School in Sierra Vista at 10 a.m. today. She'll take part in an aerial tour of the Monument Fire and the Horseshoe 2 Fire burning in the Chiricahua Mountains before coming to Sierra Vista to meet with fire officials, law enforcement and residents.

"The heat was so intense that the windows were too hot to touch. ...

There were deer running across the road trying to get away from the fire. I should have been as smart as the deer."

Pat Call, Cochise County Board of Supervisors chairman

Reporters Tim Steller and Tony Davis contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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