Witnesses to Yarnell Hill Fire break silence - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

5 INVESTIGATES

Witnesses to Yarnell Hill Fire break silence

Posted: Updated:
Hikers Joy Collura and Tex Gilligan. Hikers Joy Collura and Tex Gilligan.
  • More Local NewsLocalMore>>

  • Nautilus gives us a new look at WWII history

    Nautilus gives us a new look at WWII history

    Thursday, July 24 2014 1:11 PM EDT2014-07-24 17:11:03 GMT
    The underwater exploration vessel Nautilus is giving us a new look at history.More >>
    The underwater exploration vessel Nautilus is giving us a new look at history.More >>
  • Three arrested in connection with Lake Charles shooting

    Three arrested in connection with Lake Charles shooting

    Thursday, July 24 2014 12:16 PM EDT2014-07-24 16:16:38 GMT
    Three individuals have been arrested following a shooting that took place Wednesday night in Lake Charles in the 2200 block of 10th St.More >>
    Three individuals have been arrested following a shooting that took place Wednesday night in Lake Charles in the 2200 block of 10th St.More >>
  • Hometown Patriot - War Letters

    Hometown Patriot - War Letters

    Thursday, July 24 2014 5:12 AM EDT2014-07-24 09:12:28 GMT
    While cleaning out her late parents’ house for sale, a Sulphur native found something interesting. Denise St. Pierre is learning more and more about her father Fritz, from letters he sent home to his mom during World War 2. Fritz St. Pierre was a glider mechanic who served in England.“He was a pre-med major at LSU and the Army decided they needed glider pilots and glider mechanics,” said St. Pierre. “Color blind people don't get to be pilots, so daddy became a mechanic. Really that's what act...More >>
    While cleaning out her late parents’ house for sale, a Sulphur native found something interesting. Denise St. Pierre is learning more and more about her father Fritz, from letters he sent home to his mom during World War 2. Fritz St. Pierre was a glider mechanic who served in England.“He was a pre-med major at LSU and the Army decided they needed glider pilots and glider mechanics,” said St. Pierre. “Color blind people don't get to be pilots, so daddy became a mechanic. Really that's what act...More >>
YARNELL, AZ (CBS5) -

From first appearances, Tex Gilligan and Joy Collura make an unlikely pair.

He is a weathered old cowboy and she is a blonde chef who grew up in the Valley.

But their mutual appreciation for the Arizona countryside landed them on the Weaver Mountain range and in the path of the Yarnell Hill Fire on Sunday, June 30.

"We love to hike, both of us," said Gilligan, as he made his way between the charred black boulders and scorched manzanita skeletons.

The hikers agreed to take CBS 5 Investigates to the top of the mountain range and tell the story of what and who they saw that day, two weeks before.

"When we passed them they were spent. We looked at them," said Gilligan.

They came face to face with the Granite Mountain Hotshots. They spoke on three separate occasions that morning, talking about the location of the fire line and the firefighters' strategy.

"We saw them and I think it's so surreal for me to this day that I'm the last one to see them, as a civilian hiker," said Collura, who snapped pictures of the firefighters and the fire as it transformed from a low-lying brush fire into a raging killer.

"It went up more than a quarter mile in less than 14 minutes and I said, 'Let's get the hell out of here,'" said Gilligan.

On the way off the mountain, they found themselves on a ridge overlooking a ranch one mile below. An area around the ranch house had been cleared of brush, and it appeared to be a safe spot to fall back to as the fire made its approach.

But Gilligan knew the terrain below and the thick vegetation would make the hike to the ranch perilous.

"The deception is what can kill you. It's a trap. It's actually a basin full of manzanita," said Gilligan.

The hikers dropped down the backside of the mountain, into terrain with less fuel, although the hike to safety appeared much farther.

An hour later, the Granite Mountain crew found themselves on the same ridge. But they made a break for the ranch.

"One decision made the difference in 19 lives," said Gilligan.

Gilligan and Collura said they hope their story and their pictures will help to fill in some blanks about where the firefighters were that morning, where their equipment was and how the vegetation blocked their escape.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

  • 5 INVESTIGATESWitnesses to Yarnell Hill Fire break silenceMore>>

  • Sidebar: Yarnell Hill Fire

    Wildfires

    Thursday, December 19 2013 8:02 PM EST2013-12-20 01:02:20 GMT
    SPECIAL SECTION SLIDESHOWS VIDEOS RESOURCESMore >>
    SPECIAL SECTION SLIDESHOWS VIDEOS RESOURCESMore >>
Powered by WorldNow