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A Year Later, Yarnell Continues Putting a Community Back Together

01 July 2014   Julianne Defilippis, Cronkite News Service
It takes time, grit and determination to rebuild a community.

Loss and recovery

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The fire:

  • Burned about 8,400 acres
  • Damaged 137 structures
  • Destroyed 108 primary homes
  • Destroyed 11 uninsured homes

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  • Total income: $1,592,903
  • Individual donations: $613,372
  • Yavapai County United Way: $351,293
  • Arizona Community Foundation: $400,100
  • Other: $228,138

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The recovery group has since done everything from coordinating cleanup and donation efforts, to rebuilding homes.

"They could write a book on how-to for other communities," said Rowle Simmons, Yavapai County supervisor, whose district includes Yarnell.

Other organizations, including the Yavapai Community Fund, Salvation Army and church groups provided significant financial aid and volunteer support. For eight months, the Yavapai County United Way managed two warehouses and an aircraft hangar with items donated for Yarnell residents.

"They were set up like a department store so people could come up from Yarnell and shop for whatever they needed," said Yvonne Bartlett, the local United Way's development manager.

Anything unclaimed by February was sold off, with proceeds going to the recovery fund. One warehouse was still holding items until residents could take them, but the last of those are being distributed this week.

12-yarnell-comfort-full

American Red Cross volunteer Marty Martindale comforts Yarnell resident Gene Criner in the aftermath of last year’s blaze, that
killed firefighters and caused extensive damage. Volunteers and donations played a large role in helping the town rebuild and heal.
(Photo by Todd Tamcsin courtesy American Red Cross)

 

Aid from people and groups around the country has helped the community, and continues to do so.

"People came from all over, not for notoriety, but literally just because they wanted to help families get back into their homes," Smith said. "Personally, it was just a humbling experience."

Smith was one of 10 uninsured homeowners in town who got a new house at no cost, through the financial and volunteer assistance Yarnell received.

27-yarnell-rubble-full

The Yarnell Hill fire burned 8,400 acres and destroyed more than 100 homes. When residents returned from evacuation,
many of them found their homes reduced to rubble. (Photo courtesy Shannon Smith)

 

"All these groups came from out of town and did a beautiful job on the homes," Simmons said. "It was very heartwarming to see the outpouring support that the community received."

Many involved in the recovery agree that building those homes was their biggest accomplishment. With nine of the homes finished and the 10th under construction, the recovery group has begun assisting the under-insured as it continues to work on other community members' needs.

With roughly a quarter of homes damaged or destroyed in the fire, the community still has a ways to go before it is fully recovered. Funding is still needed. The next projects are replacing parts of the fire-damaged water system and renovating a building so the town can have a part-time doctor on a more regular basis.

"Their next step for the long road of recovery is to take a look at how they can make it better than what it was," said Foulk, who believes the community needs to now think about ways to promote economic development.

27-yarnell-shed-full

Volunteers built sheds for some Yarnell residents who lost homes in the fire. Shannon Smith decorated hers
with all of her mother’s possessions that she had been able to salvage after the fire. (Photo courtesy Shannon Smith)

 

 

Overall, said Lechner, the recovery has been "really strong and positive."

"But there's also so much layered in a disaster," she said. People go through all the stages of grief, which "doesn't go in linear line, it circles around and around," she said.

She expects that after this first anniversary, residents will shift to a new level of adjustment and acceptance.

"By and large the majority know that can't do anything to shape what happened," Lechner said. "Our encouragement has been to help people to find a way to come to grips with that."

Yarnell will never be the same, but some think it could be better because of its newfound sense of community.

Before, with an older population and a number of homebound residents, many people were isolated. Now, Lechner said, it is a "tighter-knit community."

For Smith, the optimism in the recovery brings a sense of healing.

"If you drive around you can see the beginning of homes and where homes are nearly finishing," Smith said. "I think it helps bring a measure of healing for people to see that people are staying and choosing to rebuild."

Foulk said the county was there for support all along, but the residents have "taken the bull by the horns and taken care of their businesses. All in all it was remarkable."

"I cannot tell you how immensely proud I am of the community of Yarnell," he said.

27-yarnell-house-full

Uninsured homeowners who lost their homes to the Yarnell fire had replacements built at no cost, with labor,
material and fees paid for by donations to the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group and Yavapai County United Way. (Photo courtesy Shannon Smith)