As the Goodwin Fire continues to grow, more and more residents are being forced to evacuate.
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Azcentral.com reader Jennifer Johnson recorded this video of the Goodwin Fire as she was leaving Prescott Valley on June 27, 2017.
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The Goodwin Fire is burning 14 miles south of Prescott and south of the community of Mayer.
Scott Craven/The Republic
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Here are some tips to keep your family and home safe during wildfire season. Paige Schwahn/USA Today Network
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Goodwin Fire forces evacuations
Watch fire crews drop retardant on the Goodwin Fire
How to prepare your family for wildfire season
PRESCOTT VALLEY — Hundreds of anxious Mayer residents, forced from their homes just hours before by the rapidly spreading Goodwin Fire, gathered at a Prescott Valley high school Tuesday night to get the latest news on the progress of the flames threatening their community.
But little of what fire officials said was comforting as erratic winds continued to push flames through tinderbox-dry conditions along rough terrain. By nightfall, the Goodwin Fire had forced Mayer and other areas to evacuate, closed a major road to Prescott and scorched 18,000 acres. It was only 1 percent contained as of Tuesday night.
With that reality, the crowd was reminded of the potential cost of protecting structures, when one official mentioned a looming anniversary of a tragedy that remains all too fresh in the area.
Pete Gordon, fire chief for Prescott National Forest, brought up the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died on a hill four years ago June 30 while fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire, which sparked two days prior.
“They weigh heavy on my mind, and I am sure they weigh heavy on your mind,” he told the crowd. “So please understand that while we send firefighters into difficult places, there are places we will not go. We hope you support and appreciate that.”
Gordon, who in 2013 spent the night with the fallen firefighters before their remains were collected, said later that every firefighter’s death is memorialized by lessons learned. He would use those lessons, Gordon said, as he sent crews to fight the Goodwin Fire in upcoming days, if not weeks.
“I ask myself tough questions,” he said. “Do we need to defend that ridge now, or can it wait until a better situation presents itself? We could protect that structure, but with all the brush around it, it will probably burn anyway.”
Fire officials told the crowd the Goodwin Fire is especially difficult to fight because it is roaring through trees and brush that have grown untouched for nearly 40 years. Flames are high, hot and strong, making them difficult to tame.
With more than 500 firefighters on the ground as well as helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft dropping fire retardant from above, small strides are being made.
But that was hard to see on Tuesday, after the town of Mayer, a community of about 1,400 residents located along State Route 69 between Interstate 17 and Prescott, was forced to evacuate.
Several other smaller residential areas also were forced to evacuate as the fire continued its progression, having burned nearly 4,500 acres as of Tuesday evening.
The fire, which sparked Saturday afternoon, forced the closure of SR 69 between I-17 and the junction with State Route 169. SR 69 is a major link that leads to Prescott Valley and Prescott, a heavily traveled route by many Phoenix-area residents who escape to the area on weekends. Officials confirmed late Tuesday afternoon that the fire had jumped SR 69 as it moved north, already scorching 500 acres by early evening.
The Arizona Department of Transportation said alternative routes into Prescott included SR 169, which links to I-17 north of SR 69, or State Route 89, which runs north of Wickenburg through Yarnell to Prescott and continues north all the way to Interstate 40.
Overnight Tuesday through Wednesday morning, firefighters will be establishing a perimeter around Mayer. Bulldozers are carving fire breaks as aircraft lay down fire retardant in an effort to keep flames away from the small town.
The fire has yet to burn any structures in Mayer, and officials told the crowd they would work to keep it that way.
The Red Cross set up a temporary shelter at Bradshaw Mountain High School, where officials addressed the crowd. Arrangements also were being made to house livestock at a nearby events center, and animal-welfare groups were working to provide temporary shelter for displaced pets.
Officials had no answer for the question they heard most often: “Will my home be safe?” Fuel conditions and winds, they said, have made this one of the most difficult fires to fight.
“This is a risky mission and we have to be very calculated in our decisions,” Gordon told the crowd. “We want to protect the lives of firefighters and the lives of residents.That is our utmost concern.”
Preparing to evacuate
Earlier Tuesday, under a reddish-brown sky where the sun tried to fight through thick smoke coming off a nearby ridge, Terry Jackson put a garden hose to the roof of his small home.
Twenty minutes earlier, deputies told Jackson it was time to leave as flames threatened to march down the hillside and into Mayer.
Jackson said he thought about it for all of two seconds.
“This is my home,” he said. “It’s all I have. I have to protect it.”
The Goodwin Fire bobbed and weaved just a few miles away, the erratic winds taking it east, north and then south, toward Mayer. On Tuesday afternoon, patrol cars wandered along the narrow roads that crisscrossed the small town’s neighborhoods.
Some quickly heeded the warning, packing their cars with their most valuable possessions, often dogs and cats.
But the 56-year-old Jackson and his 63-year-old brother Torrey Jackson were determined to stay put. To a point.
“Ten homes,” he said, pointing north. “There’s a gap there. If the flames cross that gap, we’ll head out. Until then, we’re sticking it out. Like I said, it’s my home. I can’t leave.”
Next-door neighbor Pam Baker, 51, followed Jackson’s lead. She was wetting down the thick brown grass surrounding her home, knowing one cinder could prove disastrous.
“I’ll go … when it’s time,” she said. “It’s not time.”
Firefighters and hotshot crews watched from a nearby elementary school, some taking photos of the fiery ridge with their phones.
Conscious of the impending date when 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives in terrain similar to what’s found around Mayer, it was best not to tempt fate, not with the dangerous winds.
On Tuesday, overhead, helicopters dropped fire retardant not far from SR 69, trying to establish a line that couldn’t be crossed. But the way the winds were picking up, nothing was certain.
Earlier in the day, evacuations were ordered in the Breezy Pines subdivision, the area north of the Goodwin-Mayer Road/County Road 177, and west of Highway 69 from Mayer to Poland Junction, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.
In addition, Chaparral Hills and Poland Junction Proper were evacuated late Tuesday afternoon. The fire still was west of those communities.
An earlier evacuation order for the community of Pine Flat is still in place, officials said.
Pre-evacuation notices have been ordered for Walker, Potato Patch, Mountain Pine Acres and Mount Union.
Motorists traveling to or from the Prescott area should research conditions, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Go to the Arizona traveler Information site at az511.gov, call 511 or follow ADOT on Twitter @ArizonaDOT.
Republic reporter BrieAnna J. Frank contributed to this article.
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