June 24 4 p.m.

The remaining residents still evacuated from their homes south of Sierra Vista will be allowed to return Friday evening, Cochise County sheriff’s officials said.

At 6 p.m. the rural area west of Calle Metate on Ramsey Canyon Road will be re-opened to residents.

That will mean all evacuations have been lifted and there are no more closures because of the Monument Fire.

Some residents were out of their homes for more than a week because of the 29,000-acre blaze, which started June 12.

Crews working overnight conducted controlled burns, maintained fire lines and continued to patrol for hot spots in the Monument Fire, which has consumed more than 29,000 acres near Sierra Vista.

The fire is 59 percent contained, but exceptionally dry weather means fire conditions remain extreme, according to the incident management team.

Overnight a controlled burn was completed in the areas west of the evacuated neighborhoods to strengthen control lines in the Carr Canyon and Garden Canyon road areas.

At Fort Huachuca Thursday, crews burned out a protective strip near Garden Canyon with assistance from Monument Fire crews. On the southwest perimeter, crews held the fire in check on the ridge between Blind and Ida canyons using retardant, hand line and burn out.

Today, fire personnel who number 1,176, will continue to construct, reinforce and secure the fire line between the Garden and Monument fires. Hot shot hand crews, with air support, will continue constructing hand lines to keep the fire from spreading north into Ramsey Canyon. A direct line will be constructed from the campground to Carr Peak.

Seven helicopters, a single-engine air tanker, two heavy air tankers, two bulldozers and 86 engines are providing support for the 26 crews fighting the blaze which has been burning for nearly two weeks.

Weather conditions are expected to mirror yesterdays with high temperatures and low humidity. Residents can expect the morning’s fire activity to be in isolated locations, with mixed smoldering and low-intensity surface fire. Later in the day, more active fire may occur in the upper reaches of drainage and along the watershed divide.

For more updates, call the Joint Information Center: 1-800-288-3861. Visit the walk-in center at the Windemere Hotel to view large-scale maps and speak to fire staff.

The next fire information meeting is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. Saturday at Buena High School, 5225 Buena School Blvd. in Sierra Vista. Fire information bulletin boards are set up at the High School, food court at the Sierra Vista Mall, and Windemere Hotel; fact sheets and maps are posted throughout Sierra Vista, Bisbee, Tombstone, Palominas, and Huachuca City.

The Coronado National Forest remains closed to all visitors. Those traveling along State Road 92 should be aware of increased fire traffic and the reduced speed limit in some areas.


SIERRA VISTA — The Monument Fire behaved, all of Arizona 92 was reopened and residents of the Hereford area reclaimed some sense of normalcy Thursday in strange new surroundings.

In a landscape altered by the 29,000-acre fire, which blasted through the canyons of the Huachuca Mountains on three windy afternoons in the past nine days, residents pondered the mysteries of why some homes survived amid the black and others burned.

Residents of Mesquite Tree Lane wondered why their homes were spared when the fire blew through Sunday, while Michael and Colleen Zehr’s home was obliterated.

Mark Gibson couldn’t explain why the weathered-wood Ash Canyon home he calls the “tree house” still stood while neighbor Tom Green was left with only ashes and the crumpled heap of his metal roof.

“I had done everything right,” Green said.

His 3,000-square-foot stucco home sported a standing-seam metal roof and was surrounded by a low block wall with a 6-foot buffer of gravel.

Green said firefighter friends told him the fire on June 14 “came through so hot it blew my windows out and burnt the house down from the inside out.”

The day before, Green said, the fire had been stopped on the ridge above him, marked by the cross and Virgin Mary statue of the Our Lady of the Sierras shrine.

On Tuesday morning, Green said, “it looked like it was completely out.”

Then “it just blew up.”

Green told his wife to leave in her car. “Then I had to try and catch my dumb, damn dog.”

Jake, the black Lab, was finally coaxed aboard, and he left just ahead of the flames.

“It just came through with all of God’s fury,” he said.

Green and wife, Colleen, are staying in Sierra Vista with their daughter and family. He says they plan to take six to eight months to figure out whether to rebuild among the blackened oaks. In the meantime, they’ll find a place to rent. “We don’t need a big place because we don’t have anything left,” he said.

Green was surprisingly jovial as he and buddy Chris Sterner sat beneath an oak tree on some rescued metal patio furniture on the property Thursday.

He said he still doesn’t understand why his house burned down while his old Volkswagen, parked nearby, was unscathed.

Up the hill, at Mark and Betsy Gibson’s house, two cars — a 1965 Austin Healey Sprite and a 1977 Porsche — were torched but his weathered-wood home was untouched.

Mark Gibson, a retired NASA engineer, has a theory about it. He watered his home, his yard and even his wood pile incessantly for two days. He believes the 100-foot wall of flame that firefighters reported just vaporized all that water and protected his home in a steam cloud.

Across Arizona 92, on a dirt street of large lots and manufactured homes, Michael Zehr had no explanation for why his was the only home burned on Mesquite Tree Lane.

Zehr, who left the Army in Fort Huachuca on disability because of a crippling disease known as ankylosing spondylitis, lost his 1998 Palm Harbor house, along with his motorized wheelchair, scooter and accessibility ramps.

He’ll rebuild in the area, he said. It’s home to his daughter, her husband and his two grandkids. He and his wife, Gayle, evacuated in a hurry along with son Christopher the first time the fire threatened last Thursday. The home burned when fire jumped Arizona 92 on Sunday.

“You never think it’s going to happen to you until it does,” Zehr said. “But it’s God’s will.”

“I’d rather my house burn down than a firefighter lose his life,” he said. “We’re fortunate. God’s looking out for us, and none of us or our neighbors were hurt.”

One of those neighbors, Nancy Vickrey, stopped by Thursday as Zehr and Christopher, 29, combed through the ashes, trying to recognize their possessions in their new twisted shapes.

Vickrey said she’d been asking God why her home was spared while the Zehrs’ house burned. “Because you’re worth saving, Nancy,” Zehr said.

Fay Schoen, who moved to Ash Canyon in 1966 with husband, Don, to build and run the Huachuca Oaks Baptist Camp, said she felt “fortunate our entire four acres was not touched.”

She had a reason for it. “I do feel there are angels looking out for us.”

Pete Sockness, in nearby Stump Canyon, had a less mystical explanation for why the fire spared his cabin full of antiques and four other homes in a row adjacent to a blasted moonscape — the structure protection crews that cleared his yard and even stacked his lawn furniture neatly in the shed.

“It’s amazing how all of these homes — five in a row — are standing,” he said.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158.