BISBEE — The acrid smell of smoke still hung in the air Monday morning as neighbors and others came to see the desolate scene of blackened debris and melted, twisted metal from a serious fire which reduced two homes to heaps of ash late Saturday night in Old Bisbee.
The Bisbee Fire Department (BFD) again did the seemingly impossible and fought fire engulfing the homes, situated within feet of each other, and fought to stop further spread to three other homes.
The call came in to 911 around 11:20 p.m. and a five-man crew answered the call. They found one of the O’Hara Avenue homes completely engulfed in flames and the home on the corner of O’Hara Avenue and Curve Street about 80 percent involved, according to Bisbee Fire Capt. Brandon Davey.
Those five firefighters held the line, preventing the spread of the fire for around 20 minutes as they waited for the response of the San Jose and Naco Volunteer Fire Districts, he added.
“While we were there, the wall of the home at 305 O’Hara Ave. fell up against the neighbor’s house and did some damage,” Davey noted.
An SUV parked across the street from the fire suffered extensive damage from the heat, which melted plastic and blistered the paint.
Across the street, the home of the O’Malley family was in a grave situation as the heat from the fire blew out the street-facing windows and blistered the paint.
“We were lucky,” said Tommy O’Malley, as he assessed the damage to the home. “If Allen (Hoese) hadn’t seen it and grabbed the hose, we would be in much worse shape.”
Hoese, who lives nearby, was sitting at home and heard sirens becoming louder and louder.
“As I looked out the window, I saw the tree burst into flames,” Hoese reported. “I just ran down and grabbed the hose and started soaking the side nearest the fire.”
O’Malley emphasized, “The Bisbee firefighters did a hell of a job. And, we were lucky there was no wind to blow embers around.”
Both of the homes which burned were occupied, O’Malley said. The home on the corner had just been bought by a woman who moved to Old Bisbee from Montana.
Eddie O’Malley, who worked with emergency services as an employee of Southwest Gas noted, “The Bisbee firefighters did a top–notch job. We need a paid fire department. There should be no talk about changing to a volunteer department or eliminating a station.”
Tommy O’Malley said the firefighters had to run up and down the hill to fill air tanks and he found it distressing they did not have all the gear they needed.
Bisbee’s firefighters are experienced with controlling fire in the old town where homes are scattered up and down the hills of the Mule Mountains and built so close together, in some instances built almost to the parcel boundaries, said Davey. The homes are old and the wooden structures have dried out. Almost annually, there is a house fire in Bisbee.
“It is a catastrophe waiting to happen,” said Bisbee Fire Chief George Castillo recently at a meeting of Old Bisbee Firewise, a non-profit dedicated to educating and engaging everyone to be aware of fire risks and hazards.
Over 400 residents of Old Bisbee have signed on to Old Bisbee Firewise to learn about ways to control and reduce the risk of fire just by landscape maintenance and reduction of dried vegetation to create a defensible space around Old Bisbee to reduce the risk of wildland fires sparked by lightning coming from the public lands and Freeport McMoRan, Inc., Copper Queen Branch, which surround the historic, former mining town.
Mayor David Smith noted, “Thank you Bisbee Fire and Police. A terrific job overnight in keeping the fire to two homes and without injuries. This situation exemplifies the necessity for everyone’s participation in and backing of the Old Bisbee Firewise program.”