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Doney Park evacuations canceled; firefighters mop up blaze
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Doney Park evacuations canceled; firefighters mop up blaze

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A fire in Doney Park reignited early Tuesday morning, causing the loss of a structure and evacuations for a quarter mile.

Evacuations were lifted later in the morning after the fire left a woodworker's home and workshop in ashes near the intersection of Pine Country Lane and Burris Lane off of Highway 89. Carl Lemke, a retired firefighter who lived next door to the burned home, fought the blaze from burning down his property with his neighbors before firefighters arrived on scene.

Some neighbors smacked out embers with flip flops; others were standing in pajamas using shovels and hoses. Lemke, standing in his old Phoenix Fire Department yellow jacket and red fire helmet, said they were trying to slow the blaze before the firefighters arrived to keep it from causing more damage.

"Because, like gosh dangit, once they get rollin' they can really get to scootin'," Lemke said.

Fire officials set up on Lemke's property as they mopped up the embers that torched trees and are believed to have damaged an Arizona Public Service powerline.

It's not clear at this point what started the fire Monday, or what caused it to reignite Tuesday, according to Mike Allen, acting battalion chief with Summit Fire Department.

But every person at the scene knew the lack of rain this summer has left the landscape dry and ready to burn.

"Initially just the immediate homes that were exposed to the fire were evacuated for precautionary measures," Allen said. "Shortly after, we were able to get a hold of it and stop forward progression and they were back in their homes."

The Coconino County Sheriff's Office sent out an attempt to locate bulletin for Rachel Rae Bridges on Tuesday afternoon. Jon Paxton, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said deputies were looking for her to see if she had any more information about the fires. They located and interviewed her later in the afternoon.

Flare up

The fire burned a total of three acres between Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, the fire took down a shed above a gully and moved toward several homes in the rural residential neighborhood before fire officials contained it.

The Monday scene looked similar, as multiple neighbors fought the blaze until firefighters arrived that evening. Many thought went to bed that night thinking the worst was over.

Lemke said he checked the fire at 4 a.m. Tuesday, and the fire was still out. But by 5:37 a.m., the fire had flared up.

"This morning, I didn't even turn to look out the window. I could see the glow," Lemke said.

Lemke ran out and grabbed a hose and turned to wetting his garage near the flames and 30 feet around the garage. Across the street, Roger Chee and his wife Tazbah woke up to what they said sounded like gunshots.

Chee said he didn't see anything when he looked out west toward the mountains, and then looked out his windows east toward the Lemke property and saw it burning.

"The smoke was black," Chee said. "If you looked that way, it looked like the whole Lemke property — everything — it was just a wall of flames."

The fire had plenty to burn as the woodworkers' piles of lumber were stacked and dried. Lemke estimated that the property had 100 chords of wood stacked in an upright position that he thought was 8 to 10 feet tall.

It's not clear whether the burned property's workshop had flammables that exploded or whether it was the powerline that exploded, according to Chris Fennel, a battalion chief with Summit Fire Department.

"We've heard the reports of the explosions too; we weren't sure what it was. Investigator has still been sifting through the stuff to see what they can figure out," Fennel said. "There were explosions last night, explosions reported this morning."

The property owner left the area as fire officials doused the remaining flames and began investigating the fire scene. Summit Fire Department, Highlands Fire Department, Flagstaff Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighters responded to the blaze.

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