Concerns in Gila County over inadequate number of emergency shelters for wildfire evacuees

As the state moves into wildfire season, there are concerns about a lack of evacuation shelters in places like northern Gila County.

"Fire came right up to the line that they made," said Gila County Emergency Manager Carl Melford.

For Melford, the Bush Fire from summer 2020, which started in the Tonto National Forest and burned more than 193,000 acres, was an eye-opener.

"Fire seasons have proven that we have evacuations of all sorts," said Melford. "Small evacuations, large evacuations. In northern Gila County, we have limited facilities."

Melford says there are only two locations in the Payson area that would work currently, but if a large-scale evacuation was needed, they might not.

"We saw last year we were just shy of half a million acres burned. I don’t want to see that again," said Melford.

Melford is asking the private sector to hopefully step up and offer any space they have. In an emergency, it could be someone’s only hope.

"Evacuations are a stressful time, and if you were forced out of your home, you’d want somewhere you could temporarily call home. A shower, somewhere you can have food, somewhere you can lay your head," said Melford.