Yavapai Co. Schools Rally During Goodwin Fire

July 7th, 2017
Yavapai County Schools Rally During Goodwin Fire, Photo: burnt landscape and a fire access road near Prescott Arizona

The Goodwin Fire

Fire season in rural Arizona is off to a dangerous start. Among the dozens of fires that have erupted across the state this past month was the Goodwin Fire, near Prescott. The fire moved rapidly through the brush and chaparral, expanding from 4000 acres on Friday to almost 25,000 on Saturday, fueled by strong winds as fire crews rushed to contain it.

For rural residents in its path, including residents of Potato Patch and Mayer, there was no choice but to evacuate their homes and hope the fire lines held. The evacuation was further hampered when the blaze forced the closing of the Highway 69, one of the main routes to Phoenix.

Fortunately, they had somewhere to go.

Superintendent Tim Carter on Yavapai Schools

Tim Carter spoke to ADE staff over the weekend about the fire, the simple reality of life in the rural Yavapai County, and the role the local schools play in keeping people safe in emergencies.

He predominately wanted to express his pride in how the various schools and districts in the county had stepped up to offer facilities and resources. Schools are a go-to location for emergency evacuation and command centers, particularly in rural communities.

They have large sheltered spaces, such as gymnasiums, for evacuees, large parking lots, food production facilities (many of which are part of our Summer Nutrition Program, ready and waiting to feed hungry children), and bus fleets ready to transport evacuees and personnel. While large cities tend to have multiple organizations ready to fill this role, in smaller communities, schools are often the only option available.

Part of the challenge of wildland fires, particularly this time of year, when the weather is hot and dry, but the first isolated storms of the summer monsoons are roiling through, is that they are inherently unpredictable. Fire crews work to forecast the direction of the fire, how fast it will grow, and in which directions. This is a complicated process, involving the fuel available, the topography of the area, and the prevailing winds. A simple shift in the wind can send the fire away from the evacuated zones and off in the direction of a community previously believed to be safe.

These fears are particularly salient in Yavapai County, where a shift in wind caused the death of nineteen firefighters during the Yarnell Hill Fire, the four-year anniversary of which passed during the height of the Goodwin Fire. At night, the number nineteen glows on the peak above Prescott, just below the “P”, a constant reminder of the danger fires pose out here.

The Goodwin Fire was particularly erratic, and there was a very real fear that the summer camps a few miles away might all need to be evacuated. This proved unnecessary, but contingencies were in place, in advance, ready to go.

According to Superintendent Carter, at least twenty schools offered their services during the evacuation period while the Arizona Department of Education’s Summer Food Service Program readied additional food supplies if called upon. Only a few schools were needed, but all who stood ready are a credit to Arizona.

Schools and Districts Stepping Up

At 9 AM on Sunday morning the Red Cross and emergency management personnel asked if Bradshaw Mountain High School could open up their facilities to serve as an emergency shelter. Forty-five minutes later, Humbodlt staff had the doors open, ready to set up an emergency shelter.

Superintendent Carter cited the hard work of Humbodlt Unified School District Superintendent Dan Streeter, which oversees Bradshaw Mountain High School Bradshaw Mountain High School, Superintendent Dean Slaga of the Mayer USD, and Superintendent Joe Howard of the Prescott USD, and their respective organizations, as indispensable. Credit also goes, of course, to the dozens of area schools that also stood ready to help, any way they could.

There are truly too many people to thank individually, so, to all you who stepped up to provide your fellow Arizonans a safe place to go in their moment of need, please accept our proud thanks for what you’ve done.

To everyone else out there, please stay safe. Fire season isn’t over, and while the Goodwin Fire is almost entirely contained as of writing this, other fires are still burning, and growing. Even as the smoke of the Goodwin Fire cleared from the air of Prescott, a new layer of thick smoke and ash rolled west from the 30,000 acre Brooklyn Fire, burning east of Sunset Point.