Arizona fires threaten, destroy homes

SNOWFLAKE, Ariz. — The 410,000-acre fire blazing in Arizona has forced the evacuation of some 13,000 members and destroyed at least 60 members' homes.

No members were injured or killed in the blaze, which caused the evacuation of 10 towns in eastern Arizona and was still not contained the last week of June.

"There is a lot of devastation — some of our faithful saints have lost properties and homes but the LDS people have been blessed," said President Norris A. Baldwin of the Taylor Arizona Stake and chairman of the Church's bi-regional welfare committee.

In a region where an estimated 40 percent of the population are Latter-day Saints, Church members have stepped into help each other and the community, he said. Evacuees are staying with friends or relatives or in community shelters, run by the Red Cross and with a huge LDS volunteer work force.

In addition, the Church has provided food and bedding and other needed items for shelters in Eager, Holbrook and Payson, said Owen Peeler of the Church's Mesa, Ariz., storehouse. With concurrence from the Area presidency, $15,000 cash assistance has been provided to each of the five volunteer fire departments in the area to assist with the purchase of food and other supplies, said Garry R. Flake, director of Church Humanitarian Service. Emergency supplies, including hygiene kits, school kits, blankets, towels, sleeping bags, food and other essential items have been shipped from Mesa and Salt Lake City to fire-stricken areas.

President Baldwin, whose own daughter was evacuated from Show Low, said many members living there should be able to return to their homes soon. Others, from areas devastated by the fire, will be returning this weekend to get a first glance of the destruction. Church leaders, he said, will ride in every van returning to fire-stricken areas, "to give comfort and support to those people whose homes have been destroyed."

He said everyone in the Snowflake/Taylor area is dedicated to helping the evacuees — not only by providing meals and supplies, but in many cases by working on the front lines with other volunteer firefighters.

A few days ago, he said, Church leaders heard of many people sleeping in the parking lot of a supermarket. "We invited them to come to a local school where Latter-day Saints provided meals for 100 people." Church members, he said, are still helping at the location, which is now being directed by the Red Cross.

"A lot of service is being done in a quiet way," he said. "People see needs, reach out and help. These families have been here for generations, many sent by Brigham Young originally. They are strong, salt-of-the-earth type of people that love the Lord, love the Church, and love [the area]. These are very strong LDS communities."

Brother Flake, who is originally from Snowflake, said once the fire is put out many members in the area will face another challenge. Many, he said, make a living from work at paper or molding mills. With so much of the timber in the area now destroyed, he said, the economy will suffer. "There is going to have to be an evaluation of how to operate and where the lumber will come from," he said.

Brother Flake added, however, that the members in eastern Arizona will endure, in their same spirit of their pioneers ancestors.

"They are coping," he said. "They know how to work. They know how to pull together and make things happen. There is a great pioneer spirit in the area."

Fires have also forced the evacuation of 30 members in Colorado.