Summer camps cut short when Arizona fire forces evacuation
PHOENIX (AP) — Stone Barras had scored 75 points on the BB gun range, hitting just outside the bull’s-eye.
The 8-year-old planned to redeem himself, but his first summer camp experience was abruptly cut short when an Arizona forest fire forced Friendly Pines Camp to evacuate.
Stone was one of 1,400 children evacuated from summer camps led by YMCAs, churches and other youth groups in the Prescott, Arizona area. Thousands of residents from six nearby communities also fled their homes.
“I was a little scared about the fire, but I was really sad I had to leave,” Stone said. “I was having a lot of fun.”
Yavapai County Supervisor Tom Thurman said local school buses drove some children to Prescott, where their parents could pick them up. He said no camps had been burned, but he wanted to evacuate them before the fire split in two and cut off both escape routes.
“For the kids, we’re just being proactive,” Thurman said.
Stone’s mother, Amanda Barras, who attended Friendly Pines Camp when she was a kid, said she was sad Stone didn’t get the full experience.
“His first time at camp had to be cut short,” Barras said. “That was the biggest heartbreak for the family.”
Barras said she was watching the fire closely when she dropped Stone off last Sunday. She would be away on vacation in Oregon while Stone was at camp, but family members in Prescott Valley were ready to help.
Stone had been kayaking, fencing and horseback riding since he arrived at the camp. He also learned how to build fires and properly “do his business” in the forest before his uncle picked him up Thursday morning.
Barras said the camp evacuation surprised her, because it looked like the fire was headed away from the camp. But fire officials reminded residents at a community meeting that wind directions can and often do change in a split second.
Officials announced Thursday night fire crews have contained about 43 percent of the fire, drawing applause from several hundred residents who attended the meeting to hear an update on the blaze.
About 1,100 firefighters are attempting to further contain the fire, which has charred almost 40 square miles (104 square kilometers) since it ignited almost a week ago.
Local officials said a handful of structures have been destroyed, but they don’t know exactly how many or whether the structures were homes. Evacuation orders have been lifted in nearby Mayer and Poland Junction, and a stretch of State Route 69 reopened Friday morning.
Another day of mild winds on Friday gave firefighters a good chance of building a larger perimeter around the blaze, but officials warned residents not to become complacent. The fire’s incident management commander said any number of unpredictable changes could cause serious damage.