6/21/2013 7:55:00 AM Doce fire update: Evacuees might face another week of waiting Iron Springs Road reopens
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
A funnel cloud moves through an area at the base of Granite Mountain that was scorched by the Doce Wildfire Thursday morning west of Prescott.
Where to find fire information
Here's some information that officials want to get out to the public:
Reverse 911 calls automatically go out to land lines when evacuations are necessary. To sign up to get the automated calls on cell phones, go to the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office website at ycsoaz.gov.
For information about the fire, call the new fire information lines at 445-1089 or 445-1269 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Please do not call the Prescott Fire Department for information. Calls are overloading the agency's phones.
For maps and photos of the fire, go online to flickr.com/docefire.
Other online Doce fire information is available at regionalinfo-alert.org; the fire's Facebook page; and the fire's Twitter account at twitter.com/DoceFire. Another site is inciweb.org, but it has been having major technical problems all week.
Major road closures include Williamson Valley Road from Pioneer Parkway to Outer Loop Road.
A portable smoke monitor has been installed in Chino Valley. For information, go online to phoenixvis.net/PPMmain.aspx.
The fire team has set up its headquarters at Prescott High School, so most summer school programs there are moving to Mile High Middle School. Officials are asking people not to come to the high school although they can call.
Evacuated residents who want to connect with loved ones can register through the Red Cross Safe and Well website at safeandwell.org. For donations or other information call 800-RedCross.
Mail carriers are not able to deliver mail to residents in Williamson Valley, Outer Loop and Iron Springs because officials are not letting anyone into those areas who is not a resident, a postal service spokeswoman said Wednesday.
So residents in those areas can pick up their mail at the U.S. Post Office at 442 Miller Valley Rd. in Prescott between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day.
Evacuees who are CenturyLink phone customers can call 800-573-1311 to ask the company to forward their calls to another number.
One question was on the mind of many evacuees during the first Doce fire community meeting Thursday night: when can we go home?
"The bottom line is, we're not out of the woods," Incident Commander Tony Sciacca said. "When it's safe... I'll bring you back in."
After several relatively vague answers in response to repeated questions, Sciacca got more specific.
If the strong winds slow down Saturday as forecasted, it could take another three days to evaluate the revised situation, he said.
"So you are looking at another five to seven days, maybe longer," he said.
Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher said his office averages about 180 calls each day from people who want to go home. No homes or people have been lost to the fire.
While evacuees can't go home, the public can now drive on Iron Springs Road because it has reopened to traffic. It was closed Tuesday when the fire ignited just south of the road and west of Prescott. But Williamson Valley Road remains closed between Pioneer Parkway and Outer Loop Road. The Prescott National Forest also has closed the fire area.
The fire now is 10 percent contained, the first time the number jumped above zero. It's listed at 6,379 acres, mostly on Granite Mountain and Little Granite Mountain. It already has cost about $2.4 million, mainly because of all the aviation assets.
About 700 firefighters are on the ground, assisted by two very large air tankers, three large air tankers and six helicopters. Only one firefighter has been injured, from a bee sting.
All the evacuations took place on Tuesday, mostly on the east side of Granite Mountain in the Williamson Valley corridor. About 465 homes have been evacuated.
Officials said they'd work with people who really need to get back in temporarily, especially to retrieve animals.
Approximately 250 people attended the community meeting at the Prescott High School auditorium Thursday, which happened to also be the first day of summer. No more community meetings are planned at this time.
Sheriff Mascher and Central Yavapai Fire District Capt. Todd Abel told the audience dramatic stories about how firefighters saved people and homes Tuesday while people were being evacuated from the Sundown Acres subdivision. Flames were pushing down the east side of Granite Mountain toward their homes.
"I just knew those houses were gone, and they managed to pull it off and save them," Mascher said.
There was no time for Reverse 911 calls, Mascher said.
"We had to get out and move people out directly, it moved so fast," Mascher said. He could see flames moving into people's yards while he was helping them carry boxes to their vehicles.
"I thought, 'These homes are gone,'" Mascher related - and lives were being threatened.
Then he saw the firefighters on the ground and a DC-10 VLAT (very large air tanker) in the air.
"These folks are heros," Mascher said. "They stopped that fire from burning down homes and taking any lives."
He saw Central Yavapai Fire District Battalion Chief Jeff Polacek, covered in slurry from the air tanker.
"Yeah, this stopped me from going up in flames," Polacek told Mascher.
The sheriff said he's heard a lot of complaints about why some people haven't evacuated. He estimated people in 12-20 homes have refused to leave.
"They were told, 'If you come out, we'll keep you out,'" Mascher explained. Otherwise, officials are not forcing them to leave.
"If there's children involved, we may take a different approach," he said.
Acting Prescott National Forest Supervisor Tom Torres said he's never seen such a fast transition from local firefighters to a Type I national incident management team, the nation's elite. The team took over the fire attack at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
It was fast because so many of the team leaders live right here in Prescott, said Sciacca only half jokingly. He's one of them. Other leaders on the team include Abel; Pete Gordon, the Prescott Forest's fire staff officer; and public information officer Mary Rasmussen, who is a planner on the Prescott Forest.
Sciacca and Abel also were leaders in the initial attack early Tuesday afternoon. Sciacca went up in the air to get a good look at the blaze and then met up with Abel.
"He says, 'Todd, you're not going to believe this. It made it up Granite Mountain and back down the other side,'" Abel related. They knew they had to start evacuations.
Abel was one of the first firefighters to reach homes in Williamson Valley.
"It pushed into that Mint Wash area...with a vengeance," Abel said. Planes started dropping retardant to buy time until more firefighters could arrive. Abel arrived at the home of Jim Buchanan, a financial planner and brother of former sheriff Buck Buchanan. Three fire engines soon joined him.
"The coordination was incredible," Abel said. "The things those guys pulled off to skirt that fire around those structures...was incredible."
He described all the training that local fire agencies do together to prepare for days like this.
"Without that cooperation, I guarantee it would have been a lot worse at the start of this thing," Abel said.
Gordon used Google Earth to detail for the audience the tactics that firefighters are using on the Doce.
"We've seen a lot of surprises on this fire," Gordon said.
Officials fielded questions from more than a dozen people in the audience before ending the nearly two-hour meeting.
Some asked how their favorite places on Granite Mountain have fared, and the animals that live there.
Sciacca said he and Abel watched deer, pronghorn and fox running away from the mountain.
Despite the extreme intensity of the fire, some of the old growth yellow ponderosa pines in a bowl on the east side of the mountain survived, Sciacca said.
And so did an ancient alligator juniper that could be the oldest in the Southwest.