ORO VALLEY, Ariz. – Some cried, others hugged when they heard the news: A wildfire (search) had exploded through their mountaintop town.
Several dozen residents who fled Summerhaven (search) before a wildfire raged through the community Thursday were told that the extent of damage was difficult to assess, but it didn't look good for many of them.
Fire officials estimated as many as 250 homes in the Mount Lemmon hamlet had burned.
About 100 people live in Summerhaven all year, and hundreds more have cabins and second homes there. Evacuees gathered for the fire officials' briefing at a resort that provided hotel rooms and a ballroom as an information center.
"At this point, I'm very calm at times. I have waves in which I visualize the worst," said Judy Epstein, a six-year resident who leads an effort to better prepare the community for wildfires. "I feel fortunate because I can stay busy and help others."
Last year, a 30,000-acre fire came within several hundred feet of Summerhaven and forced residents to evacuate for two weeks.
"I thought it was going to be like last year's fire, but when we heard that the fire was getting closer I had mixed emotions and I got very nervous," said Ron DeSchalit, who has owned a home in Summerhaven since 1999.
Cathy Dimond said she has worked at the Mount Lemmon Cafe in Summerhaven for two years, commuting up the mountain.
"Pretty much my entire social circle is on the mountain," Dimond said. "It's like watching my own back yard going up in flames."