Wallow Fire: Family's escape caught on camera

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by Tyler Baldwin

azfamily.com

Posted on June 10, 2011 at 6:56 AM

Updated Friday, Jun 10 at 9:57 AM

ALPINE, Ariz. -- The 386,000-acre Wallow Fire has forced thousands of people out of their homes.
One family from Alpine just barely got out in time, and they have the video to prove it.
 
As the driver races out of town, you can see the orange glow of flames just on the other side of the trees. Whitney Wiltbank's sister is the one behind the camera. He was driving just 20 minutes behind her, and by the time he came through the area, he says the flames had almost overtaken the road.

"The flames were like 40 or 50 feet high and they were just flinging embers,” Wiltbank said. “Each of those embers would start another fire."

Wiltbank owns the historic Sprucedale Guest Ranch. He said they were caught off guard last week when the fire jumped from several miles out to right up against their property.

“It started to turn like a tornado.” Wiltbank recalled. “It increased in strength, jumped up to 33,000 feet and it just came down with fury!"

The family had less than a few hours to evacuate.

"I had 60 horses," Wiltbank said. "We don’t have a trailer for that capacity so I just had to turn them out into the pasture south of the ranch and the fire just went right through the pasture where I turned the horses into.”

In pictures taken by firefighters shortly after his family, guests and staff left, you can see flames just a few feet from their cabins.

Wiltbank can’t thank the firefighters enough.

"Without the firefighters, there would not be a building left," he said. "That’s all there is to it. The fire was completely coming in our direction. They put a wedge in there that allowed Sprucedale to survive."

So far they have already recovered 50 horses.

“The dry conditions, the strength of the fire, we were just thankful to get everyone out of there without injury," Wiltbank said.

It’s not all good news. Although Wiltbank's property was saved, his brother lost five cabins on a nearby ranch.

"It was unforeseen that the fire was going to shift like that and we had to just abandon ship," Wiltbank said.

They are going to rebuild as soon as firefighters allow them back into the area. They will start taking reservations at SprucedaleRanch.com.
 

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