Yarnell Hill Fire: Volunteers help Yarnell recover from wildfire

PRESCOTT, AZ - While some people have contributed money to victims of the Yarnell Hill wildfire, others have contributed their time.

Hundreds of people helped clean up debris, cut down trees and sift through the ashes to help search for unburned belongings of the uninsured and underinsured.

Samaritan's Purse and the Southern Baptist Convention helped organize volunteers from churches throughout the Prescott region, said Steve Keehner, who lost his Yarnell home to the fire. He was uninsured because his home was not exactly built by a professional in 1936. Keehner has lived there since 1967.

"It kind of gives you a fresh look at humanity," Keehner said of all the volunteers. "About the time you think there's no more hope for the human race, people like that jump in. They've been a tremendous help."

Mike Baker and his wife from Santa Fe were among the volunteers from Samaritan's Purse, which gathered together 545 volunteers for 46 work orders in July and August. It's a non-denominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world since 1970.

Baker said it took him a few days to convince the Keehners to let his volunteers help.

"It's as much a blessing to us as it is to the homeowner," Baker said. "It doesn't matter what religion they are or aren't. They're people."

Samaritan's Purse Program Manager Tony McNeil said his management team primarily gathered local volunteers through its website and word of mouth, then trained them at the Heights Church in Prescott.

McNeil had a special connection to the Yarnell tragedy because he knows the family of Eric Marsh, the superintendent of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in the wildfire alongside 18 of his crewmembers.

Keehner's employer Redstone Resources also helped out by letting him borrow a backhoe, and in turn Keehner helped a few neighbors with the backhoe.

While Keehner was talking about all the volunteers, a family of volunteers from Mesa pulled up and asked if anyone needed help.

"I never dreamed the amount of people that just showed up," Keehner said. "These people don't get the publicity they deserve."

Keehner and his wife Debi found a box of books in what was left of their basement, and all were singed except her grandmother's Bible. They also found a Mother's Day plate their daughter gave Debi when their daughter was 6 years old.

They've been able to restore electricity on their property with the help of church volunteers from Prescott, and now are staying in a travel trailer on their property while they try to rebuild. The county waived its temporary power fee.

Keehner also had nothing but praise for county officials such as Development Services Director Steve Mauk, Emergency Services Coordinator Denny Foulk and his assistant Hugh Vallely.

Foulk said 122 homes were destroyed in the wildfire and 11 were primary residences that were uninsured. He estimated roughly 30 were underinsured.

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