Oracle Fire Chief: 'This isn't the last one - we'll have more'

Oracle Fire Chief: 'This isn't the last one - we'll have more'

ORACLE, AZ (Tucson News Now) - One day after a wildfire ripped through Oracle, scorching several structures and wiping out one family's home, fire officials say now is the perfect opportunity to stress the importance of defensible space.

Thursday's fire charred at least 20 acres of dense vegetation across Oracle.

And while multiple homes were threatened, flames ran out of fuel as they encroached upon properties previously prepared for wildfire.

Unfortunately, the retirement home of Barbara and Ron Chatham was not one of them.

"The flames were about three or four feet high and they were already at the back patio wall right there," Ron Chatham said as he looked over the rubble that was once his two-story home.

"I just yelled up at her," Chatham said. "I said, 'Get downstairs. Grab one of the dogs, I'll grab the other -- let's get the hell out of here.'"

Authorities say the fire started on a property just to the west of the Chatham's as neighbors were outside staining furniture.  We're told a rag soaked in linseed oil somehow ignited and started a brush fire.

Within seconds the fire exploded over 20 acres, charring everything in its path, with the exception of several properties that had previously been cleared of debris and underbrush.

"Our trees have lost their leaves, they're struggling, they're dying," said Larry Southard, Chief of Oracle Fire Department. "The conditions are perfect for fire."

As we know, it's been unseasonably hot this year.  And considering we didn't have much of a winter, densely vegetated communities like Oracle are at even greater risk.

"This isn't the last one. We'll have more here," Southard said.

At 4,500 feet, Oracle is lush with trees and grasses not present just a few miles to the south.

That's why the town's fire chief can't stress enough the importance of defensible space around every property.

"People move here because they want the oaks, they want the Manzanitas - and they're beautiful," Southard said. "But at the same time, there's a balance between protecting your house."

To illustrate the point, the house immediately next to the Chatham's did not burn. The fire's path is evident, but the house survived.

"It went completely around this house ... and went to the house behind it," Southard said.

Instead, the fire went to the house surrounded by thick brush and vegetation.

It was the only house lost in Oracle yesterday.

Chatham wants others to benefit from the lesson he learned the hard way.

"People around here, knock down all your dead brush," Ron Chatham said.  "That's all I can say."

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