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Updated Aug 26, 2013 - 3:43 pm

Yarnell Fire District struggles in fire aftermath

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- The aftermath of the wildfire that killed 19 firefighters from Prescott poses challenges to the rural fire district that serves Yarnell.

Nearly half of the Yarnell Fire District's 30 volunteers have resigned, while the district's finances took a hit because the fire destroyed more than 100 homes that provided about a third of the community's property tax base, The Daily Courier reported.

The community is located approximately 27 miles southwest of Prescott, the Yavapai County seat and the base of the Granite Mountain Hotshots municipal crew that was nearly wiped out when changing winds swept flames over their position near Yarnell.

``Some of them lost their homes and some were very frightened after the fire and didn't want to be in Yarnell,'' Chief Jim Koile said of the departed volunteers, who included most of the district's dispatchers. ``Others left because they just didn't want to do this anymore.''

The district was already on thin ice financially before the fire and has had to function with outdated equipment, Koile said.

The district's 750-gallon engine is more than 20 years old and requires constant maintenance. A new engine would cost the district between $350,000 and $400,000.

Koile said he expects money to be tight for about three years until people move back in, rebuild and put property back on tax rolls.

``Our revenue was already way too small. Now it's going to be even tighter,'' Koile said.

The district is applying for grants to help bridge the gaps in its budget, but grants typically are for specific projects such as brush removal, Koile said.

``Grants don't pay your salary or do a whole lot for your overall budget,'' Koile said.

The community's small population combined with the large number of senior residents makes finding volunteers even more of a task, according to Koile.

``Matter of fact, none of our paid people live here,'' Koile said. ``It's really hard to find people here that can be firefighters. Our age bracket here is in the 60s, so it's hard to find people who are able to work.''

The district has received approximately $15,000 from donations and benefit events, including $10,000 from AmeriGas Propane Inc. on Aug. 13.

``After talking with Chief Koile and seeing how stretched thin they were, realizing that the fire department was going to start losing income, it seemed to me like the right thing to do,'' AmeriGas district manager C.J. Ellson said.

The district also received two donated ATVs that will allow firefighters to reach places where trucks cannot go.

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Information from: The Daily Courier, http://www.dcourier.com

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