June 22, 8:30 p.m.

New figures have been released for the Monument Fire. The wildfire has burned 28,236 acres, since starting June 12. The blaze is also now 59 percent contained.

More than 1,300 people are assigned to the fire.

There are no more pre-evacuation zones south of Sierra Vista because of the Monument Fire. There are still areas, however, under evacuation orders. Those area are primarily on the west side of Arizona 92.

 

Gas service being turned back on

Southwest Gas has begun restoring service to Sierra Vista customers who were allowed to return home after evacuating.

The area bordered by Ramsey Road on the north, Hereford Road on the south, Arizona 92 on the west and South Calle Lima on the east had about 250 customers without service, said Libby Howell, a Southwest Gas spokeswoman.

There is no need to call Southwest Gas to request service, as crews will go to each customer and restore service. If nobody is home the technician will leave a door tag with a phone number to call for service, Howell said.

JUNE 21 UPDATES

Evacuees get to go home

Thousands of evacuees returned to their homes south of Sierra Vista Tuesday as tame winds kept the Monument Fire relatively calm for the second consecutive day.

Firefighters are taking advantage of the favorable weather to create containment lines they hope will help prevent the fire from again barreling out of the canyons west of Arizona 92 and into neighborhoods when it makes its way farther north, as expected.

Most of the 65 homes destroyed or damaged since the fire started June 12 were burned when the fire churned out of the canyons and into the neighborhoods.

Controlled burns scheduled for Tuesday night triggered a mandatory evacuation of homes in an area west of Arizona 92 between Ramsey Canyon Road and Kachina Road and bordered on the west by Fort Huachuca. Residents there had until 6 p.m. to leave and were told they would not be allowed to return for 48 hours.

Crews are also doing structure-protection work in Ramsey and Carr canyons.

Firefighters are planning a series of controlled burns during the next several evenings to remove "fuel" between the fire and the neighborhoods, said Cochise County sheriff's spokeswoman Carol Capas.

"It's not the fire danger posing a threat," said Capas about the mandatory evacuation. "It's the air-quality danger. That's what we're warning people about."

To date, the Monument Fire has burned 27,200 acres and destroyed or damaged 65 homes and businesses. It is 45 percent contained.

There are nearly 1,200 people, eight helicopters and four air tankers assigned to the fire, which is human-caused.

Officials were allowing many residents to return to their homes. Some areas still required official escorts or permits to return.

"Grateful to be alive"

Michael and Gayle Zehr are among those who lost their homes.

The Zehrs learned of their fate when they opened the Sierra Vista Herald to see a picture of their charred 1969 Mustang on their property.

A neighbor who was able to get to the area confirmed their suspicions that their house was a total loss, Michael Zehr said.

The Zehrs had lived in the house - just east of Arizona 92 on Mesquite Tree Lane - since 1998. They were evacuated on Thursday and were able to get some of their possessions.

Gayle Zehr's wedding dress and a Michael Zehr's prized Ryne Sandberg autographed baseball were left behind.

Plus, there was a collection of DVDs, big-screen TVs, video-game units and a "World's Greatest Dad" certificate with a written message from his 4-year-old grandson, Kyle.

"It's overwhelming to think about," Zehr said Tuesday in a phone interview.

They had recently put in new appliances, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had installed new accessibility ramps for Michael Zehr, a disabled veteran. But the Zehrs insist they aren't upset with anybody.

"I'm just grateful to be alive," Michael Zehr said. "The property can be replaced. Life cannot. I'm very, very thankful that none of the firefighters were injured. I think they did the best they could under the conditions."

They have home insurance and hope to be able to rebuild at the same area, he said. But that's a long way off. They still haven't been able to get back to see the remnants of their home.

They've called the Sheriff's Office requesting an escort but have yet to hear back.

They've been overwhelmed by calls, emails and Facebook posts from friends and family sending their condolences and offering help. Michael Zehr said he feels terrible for the other 60-plus families who lost their homes. But he's confident the community will continue to support one another.

"Being part of a military town and a military community, it's just something special," he said.

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or bmccombs@azstarnet.com

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