Some Goodwin Fire Evacuees In A Holding Pattern

By  Laurel Morales
Published: Monday, July 3, 2017 - 7:00am
Updated: Monday, July 3, 2017 - 12:20pm

The Goodwin Fire was more than 27,000 acres on July 2, 2017.
(Photo courtesy of inciweb.nwcg.gov)

Hundreds of Goodwin Fire evacuees have been allowed to go home, while others are waiting for firefighters to mop up hot spots. As of Sunday night, the 27,000-acre fire was 75 percent contained. At least five houses have been destroyed. And officials haven’t said yet whose homes have burned.

Peg Millett is a former firefighter, so she knew when a helicopter landed in a meadow next to her house, something was up.

"I immediately hot footed it over there, and I saw yellow shirts and I went, ‘Oh no, this does not bode well," Millett said.

Those yellow shirts belonged to firefighters. Millett kicked into emergency mode, calmly packed a few clothes, her animals (including a neighbor’s horse) and left everything else behind.

"As the fire was coming down into pine creek, which is I’m on pine creek. You could smell i,t you could hear it, it was very very close," Millett said.

As she was driving away two of her cats jumped out of the horse trailer.

Six days later she’s trying to hold it together as she waits for answers at a community meeting in Prescott Valley. The questions going through her mind: when does she get to go home? And are her cats and home OK?

Many residents turned out for a community meeting Thursday night to discuss the status of the Goodwin Fire.
(Photo by Laurel Morales - KJZZ)

"You can’t have expectations, if you do you’re screwed. So it’s really important to just be really neutral in suspended animation, because I have no idea," Millett said.

Another resident in the nearby community of Blue Hills asked Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Nasher about her animal. Nasher said a system has been set up where officials escort animal owners to retrieve their animals.

RELATED: Goodwin Fire: Hundreds Of Animals Evacuated

Nasher estimates more than 2,000 people are displaced staying with friends, at motels, at the Red Cross Shelter — in a holding pattern. Finally, good news arrived. Evacuation orders were lifted for the town of Mayer and State Highway 69 reopened.

Pat Smillie is ecstatic to pull into her driveway Friday morning. The first thing she noticed was a potted cactus by her front door.

"And my little cactus plant that belongs to my son, it even has a bloom on it. It said, ‘Welcome home,'" she said. "I was feeling very happy, very good. Thank you, God, for taking care of my house and everything and feeling very, very sad for the several people that lost everything over there."

Over there meaning the neighborhood across the highway, where the fire caused the most damage. Smillie uses the same word over and over: lucky.

"I was so lucky. Yeah, we were very fortunate. But look at the hills all black. That’s all black," Smillie said. "That’s where it all burned. See how lucky we were, it didn’t get over to us?" She can see where the firefighters cut down a few shrubs in her yard as they likely prepared to back burn. But Smillie, who has lived in Arizona more than 50 years, knows what’s her responsibility. She had already gotten rid of most vegetation and created what firefighters call a “defensible space” around her house.

"If you live in Arizona, you’re going to have forest fires," she said.

After watering her strawberry, squash and lettuce plants that miraculously survived the smoke and ash, Smillie took in the view of blackened hills — a place she used to explore on her horse and burro, Cowboy and Button.

"Yeah, that’s what we look at. That’ll be black for a long time. It’ll be a long time before that comes back," she said.

Mayer resident Pat Smillie points to her view — 28,000 acres of burned chaparral. She says she's lucky her house wasn't destroyed.
(Photo by Laurel Morales - KJZZ)

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