Community shows support for Frye Fire firefighters

Contributed Photo/Courtesy Catherine Allred : Titled, "Made with love & puff paint! From the Winklers, Allreds & Vaughns." Children line up to show off their signs supporting the firefighters.

By Brooke Curley

THATCHER – From one side of the Gila Valley to the other, signs can be seen showing support for the men and women who bravely fight the Frye Fire. Letters have also been collected and delivered to the firefighters by local Boy Scouts, conveying gratitude and faith.

Although many would wish to do more to show support to the firefighters, most within the community have settled for writing letters or creating signs of encouragement for the firefighters. Lisa Vellejos is a local Boy Scouts leader who, working with her co leader, Michelle Webster, thought of the letters for the firefighters. Working with the Safford City-Graham County Library, and the Extreme Martial Arts karate dojo, the Boy Scouts have collected dozens of letters and are still collecting them to be given to the firefighters and their headquarters.

“Michelle Webster and I are Boy Scout leaders, and we have been talking about and learning about heroes this last month,” Vellejos said. “The boxes and banners fit in perfect to say thank you to some of the heroes around our town.”

Photos for slideshow contributed by Lisa Vellejos

Valerie Mance is one of the local moms who created signs conveying encouragement to the firefighting crews. Mance told Gila Valley Central that she felt the need to show the firefighters that the community was grateful and supportive in a time of social media negativity.

“I felt the need to do this to show the firefighters we are behind them and extremely grateful for what they are doing,” Mance said. “There were numerous negative posts about the fire and the firefighters; that is unacceptable. I was raised here, I raised my kids here and now my grand(children) are being raised here. That is not just a mountain, that is thousands of memories. My grandparents’ ashes are spread up there. That is our mountain.”

Contributed photo courtesy of Valerie Mance featuring Ashlee Tucker and Sofia Tucker

Lisa Radosevich-Craig, Public Information Officer for the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team, told Gila Valley Central that the letters and posters mean a great deal to the firefighters local and from distant locations.

“We talk about the thank you (letters) that are coming in from the children and read some and we have them posted, and they get so excited about it, to know how the children feel about their mountains,” she said. “And the thank you notes saying ‘thank you, firefighters, for saving my mountain,’ that personal piece really touches the firefighters. It just makes it more special that they’re doing work that young children care about so much. It’s really touching.”

When it comes to the homemade signs near the road and on the fences, Radosevich-Craig told Gila Valley Central that they act as a great morale booster.

“When the crews come into town from off the mountain driving in and they see them it just makes them feel really good,” she said. “Because it’s hot and it’s hard work that they’re doing, fighting fires up on the mountain. So, to come and realize the outpouring of support, and for those who have got sons and daughters at home, there’s that connection that is special.”

Thanks to Public Information Officer Radosevich-Craig, below are several notes back from the firefighters about the letters and signs:

“It’s heartwarming to see how people care and appreciate us and the hard work we do.” – Haydee Sanchez, Umpqua National Forest in Oregon

“These signs help make us feel appreciated and help make it easier to be away from my wife and family at home.” – Jeff Staples, Rio Verde Fire District (Type3 Eng.) from northeast of Scottsdale

“Sometimes when the job’s tough and we come down the line, we see these signs and it brightens our day.” -Jacob Key, Santa Fe Hot Shots (New Mexico)

“All feedback has been positive, people I’ve talked to are very understanding on our tactics.” – Allen Hershey, Sunsites-Pearce Fire District in Cochise County

From Gila Valley Central, stay safe out there to all the men and women working on the Frye Fire.

Gila Valley Central would like to thank the Gila Valley Moms Facebook group for all of their contributions to this article.