By Frank Giroux
Special to the Copper Basin
The following is an accurate account of the event which destroyed my home at the old DuBois Ranch headquarters two and a half miles south of Kearny at mile marker 143.5 west off State Highway 177. I have read several articles none of which are factual.
The fire began with a lightning strike in the old channel of the Gila River approximately 130 yards west south west of the home of my neighbor, Charles Stephens. This location is one mile north of my home toward the town of Kearny. My residence is 63815 East Tristan Rd., which is a dirt lane running west off Highway 177. Maps erroneously show Tristan Road running from the highway westerly across the Gila River and intersecting El Comino Rio…the river road. The road from my home at the old DuBois Ranch HQ is on private ranch property, built by the family over 50 years ago. Neither Pinal County nor the state of Arizona has had any involvement with this private track.
The lightning strike was after 5 p.m. It appears to have burned for approximately 15 minutes in the general area before the wind picked up and began to push the blaze south, gaining intensity and growing into a fire storm. During this time, I was inside my studio-shop and unaware of the impending danger.
Around 5:20 p.m. I heard Ralph S. (Button) DuBois coming across the river bottom on his Honda Quad. Knowing that it was time for Button to be leaving the ranch for his shift at the Ray Mine, I and my companion dog Frida, walked outside to greet him as he went to work. As we walked forward a friend, Abe Romero, drove in hurriedly and called to Button inquiring as to my whereabouts. Button responded that he was coming to get me and Abe turned around and left promptly. Puzzled, I called to Button and he responded that I needed to get Frida, load what I could in my truck and leave. We had fire. As I closed toward Button he pointed north and I turned to look over my residence and saw what appeared to be napalm rolling right toward us. I had seen several napalm strikes during service in Viet Nam, but none where I was on the business end of things.
I placed Frida in my Ford F250 pickup truck…started the vehicle…and went into my residence to find what I could to evacuate. The fire closed very fast and I had about 10, not more than 15, minutes to decide and carry out to the truck. Shortly Justin Goodwin arrived and began to help and carry, as the heat increased he had to leave. I made one last trip inside and Button walked in to help and get the keys to my quad. He had been moving vehicles out to the highway and running back on foot. I informed Button that we had no time as the quad was locked and chained. Button ran to his pickup and I took one last look and walked out as fire broke through the awning. I mounted my truck, drove south to turn around and then headed north for the gate with Button right behind. We drove through about 20 yards of flame and broke out behind the storm and across the rail road tracks and out to the highway. The power poles to the north side of our drive were on fire and we asked the arriving fire fighters from Hayden to do what they could to extinguish them. Button and I then moved our vehicles to the east side of the highway and dismounted. As I talked to folks there I noticed smoke coming from the back of my camper shell. Opening the hatch I found three items burning. A fellow from the neighboring ranch ran over with a bucket of water and helped make thing safe. I then realized that we had left the area at the last possible moment.
Fire is a very dynamic process, creating its own weather. All of the structures on the west side of our drive way were completely destroyed. On the east side, the fire burned from north to south taking the supply of fence stays, gate posts, heavy timber and lumber. It burned up to the porta-john; burning the north side of the structure and then lifting up and ran over the top of my Bronco, ATV trailer and diesel storage tank. Then taking to ground and running behind and past my 40 foot Conex Box (shipping container). The fire burned the paint off the south west corner of the box taking the timber and lumber stored there and took a stored travel trailer. All were completely destroyed.
To the west parallel to my storage box and 25 feet away, we had approximately 60 rail road ties for fence work and 50 pine 6×8 inch timbers…all completely destroyed. Ironically, I had seven rail road ties stacked at the north end of the storage box and none burned!
The fire jumped the rail road track to the east of the storage box and burned toward the old Birdsell house and then moved south through our old corrals and hay barn. On the west side of the tracks and to the south of our site, the fire progressed for about one quarter mile and then stopped moving south.
This incident began in 1983 with the Gila River flood and, grew by orders of magnitude with the flood of 1993 when both the Gila and San Pedro Rivers carried water for weeks on end. After the 1983 flood Ralph S. DuBois Sr. and other cattlemen sought aid from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assist in cleaning the debris and removing foreign vegetation such as salt cedar and cotton wood which had migrated into the valley. These plants are not native to the area. The Nature Conservancy joined by the Sierra Club brought suite in federal court and obtained an injunction such as to protect the habitat of the willow fly catcher. Fuel built for 30 years.
Adding to the fuel supply on the west side of the highway in the river bottom and north to Kearny was the removal of livestock from grazing. This contributed to a buildup of fine tinder, creating a bomb awaiting an ignition source. God sent the lightning bolt on July 8, 2013, at approximately 5 p.m.
Those responsible for this catastrophe will not be held accountable. However, we must recognize the truth and accept the fact that practices of irresponsibility and malfeasance to say the least are cause and effect. The native people that have lived here over hundreds of years managed the ground, and those families that have worked the land for much of the past 130 years did as well…. that is up until the 1983 flood.
I greatly appreciate all of the concern and financial assistance coming my way. I am truly blessed and my American family is taking care of its own. The question that begs answer is: What will we do to make certain that this never happens again?
Please join me in managing those we elect and hire to protect our resources. We owe this to the young men who were sacrificed at Yarnell as poor land management took them from us.
We owe this to those families now living along the San Pedro and Gila rivers — from Dudleyville, Winkelman, Hayden, Kearny, Riverside and Kelvin. Conditions for a catastrophe are well established and must be mitigated, Now!
Thank you for your concern and interest.
/s/ Frank W. Giroux