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Seminar visit turns into close view of wildfire

When three women from Lake Region Therapy Services headed to Arizona for training, little did they know they would be in the midst of wildfires.

Erin Lindberg, Jane Flynn and Carolyn Pierce attended advanced courses while in Sedona with 70-85 other therapists from the United States, Canada and London.

The three arrived on different dates, but all got an amazing view of the wildfires going on in Arizona.

"When Erin got there, there was a small fire," Pierce said, "but they (firefighters) got that out right away."

That was on June 11, she said. Several days later, on June 18, another fire started. Authorities hadn't found the culprit as of June 25 when the women left the state, but Pierce said they thought it was a homeless man that was cooking and the fire got away from him that started the wildfire.

By the time they left on June 25, the wildfires were 20 percent contained, Pierce said. Firefighter teams from Idaho and Utah were there helping all the local and surrounding fire departments.

Although she's not positive if the fires are completely out, Pierce said local townspeople thought they would be out by last week.

While in Sedona, the women could see smoke and flames from their hotel.

"By 2 a.m., there was heavy smoke," Pierce said. "I'd have to get up and make sure the building wasn't on fire."

She said that during the day, winds would blow the smoke over the plateau, away from their hotel. Every evening, the winds would change and blow toward their hotel.

She said walking to breakfast in the morning would cause her eyes to water and nose to run the smoke was so strong.

But despite the risk of being so close to the fire, Pierce said they felt fairly comfortable being there.

"We took our cues from the people there who are used to it," she said. "We were a little nervous to begin with."

But there were safety precautions as well. Each morning, they would keep their belongings packed in their hotels rooms so they could grab them and go if they needed to evacuate quickly.

Highway 89A was closed less than a mile from their hotel, and Pierce said she estimates the fires were about four to five miles from their hotel.

"It was quite an experience," she said. "It was phenomenal, sad, very sad. It's true wilderness."

She said it was sad to see so many trees go up in flames.

She said the firefighters in that area try to do controlled burns because of the possibilities of wildfires. This particular land that was on fire hadn't been burned in the past because it was on tribal land and firefighters weren't allowed to burn it.

"The beauty of that area being burned down was sad," she said.

Authorities were worried about possible storms while the fire was still burning. Temperatures ranged from 109-114 degrees while Pierce was there she said, and humidity was about 7-14 percent. The dry, hot conditions, mixed with a storm, likely would have caused heat lightening, causing more damage and fire.

Pierce said it amazed her how all the townspeople gathered together for the visiting firefighters. She said when they would enter town, people would cheer and clap for them.

"It was really neat the way everyone comes together for support," she said.

She said the helicopters used in the fires would land and refill with water at the airport area where they held their seminars, so Pierce and the rest of the group were constantly reminded of what was going on around them.

She said some people did have to evacuate their homes, but no homes or businesses were damaged by the flames.

Regardless of the scary thought of being that close to a wildfire, Pierce said it was amazing being there.

"It's always an awesome experience being there because of the beauty and energy there."