BETA

Arizona dance festival goes on despite growing fire

EAGAR, ARIZ.

As a monstrous wildfire burned near Eagar, Ariz., nearly 1,000 youth and leaders converged on the town to participate in a dance festival for which they had practiced for months.

The Wallow Fire started May 29 in the middle of the Sitgreaves National Forest and five days later it had blackened over 60,000 acres, forcing the evacuation of the communities of Alpine and Nutrioso, less than 30 miles away and within the Eagar Arizona Stake's boundaries.

Youth from several stakes in Arizona participate in a dance festival.
Youth from several stakes in Arizona participate in a dance festival. Photo: Photo by Jill B. Adair

"We started having questions about whether we should even have it or not," said Julie Adair, one of the stake's Young Women leaders.

Smoke billows from the Wallow Fire.  The Round Valley Ensphere is in the foreground.
Smoke billows from the Wallow Fire. The Round Valley Ensphere is in the foreground. Photo: Photo by Jill B. Adair

Five other stakes in northeastern Arizona were also involved in the dance festival. Young men and women ages 14-18 would be coming in from Winslow, Holbrook, Snowflake, Show Low and St. Johns.

Stake leaders met June 2 and decided to go forward with the festival but felt they should ask all of the participants to come fasting.

"We wanted to get [in touch with] them and ask them to start fasting from then until lunch the next day," Sister Adair said.

Nearly 775 youth and 150 leaders arrived the next morning at the Round Valley Ensphere — a 120,000-square-foot dome that is the only high school domed football stadium in the U.S.

The youth began attending workshops and dance rehearsals and at lunchtime everyone gathered and knelt to offer a prayer to end their fast.

They continued on throughout the day with activities and that night the girls stayed in members' homes while the boys had brought sleeping bags and stayed in the dome.

Eagar Arizona Stake President Pete Hunt went to the Forest Service meeting Saturday morning and was told by fire officials that they were aware of the youth event in the town and that it would be safe to continue on as an evacuation was not imminent.

But the smoke had moved in on Friday night and filled the dome.

They decided to again offer a prayer.

Most of the youth were in different parts of the dome, practicing their dances when the announcement was made that the fire was continuing to grow. They knelt and one of the youth offered a prayer over the loudspeaker.

Smoke billows from the Wallow Fire.  The Round Valley Ensphere is in the foreground.
Smoke billows from the Wallow Fire. The Round Valley Ensphere is in the foreground. Photo: Photo by Jill B. Adair

Trenna Hunt, dance coordinator from the Holbrook Arizona Stake, said it was amazing to hear how quickly the dome became quiet. "The kids were holding hands and kneeling; the Spirit was just amazing," she said. "The kids kept saying, 'It's going to be fine.' They knew that what they had worked so hard for over the last three months was going to work out."

Nearly 1,000 youth and leaders participated in a dance festival in Eagar, Ariz.
Nearly 1,000 youth and leaders participated in a dance festival in Eagar, Ariz. Photo: Photo by Jill B. Adair

"It's an experience that I am never going to forget," Sister Hunt said. "As soon as the kids offered the prayer, the smoke began to dissipate."

By show time the smoke had cleared and nearly 5,000 family and friends showed up to watch the performance.

Sister Hunt's daughter, Kaelynn, 17, said she was fasting and praying and felt the Spirit as they broke the special fast together.

"The Spirit was all over," she said. "It was just that strong."

"I was worried about my brother who has asthma," she said, "but he didn't have to take his inhaler once, and neither did my other friends. We were just so blessed."

Three days later the evacuation of Eagar and neighboring Springville began as the fire grew to more than 300,000 acres.

The fire had already burned through areas of Alpine, including a girls' camp on Church-owned property.

Youth from several stakes in Arizona participate in a dance festival.
Youth from several stakes in Arizona participate in a dance festival. Photo: Photo by Jill B. Adair

The camp is used by stakes from Safford, Thatcher, Pima, Holbrook, Globe, Winslow, St. David, Sierra Vista, Eagar and Pinetop-Lakeside.

About 200 young women and leaders from the Safford stake had been evacuated safely, according to Malcolm "Smokey" Hansen, a service missionary and full-time caretaker of the summer camp facility.

Brother Hansen said the camp received notice June 2 that they might have to evacuate, but within two hours after the notice came they were told the wind had changed and they had three hours to get out.

"We were all eating supper," he said, "but it went exceptionally well — I never saw any panic whatsoever and everyone packed up and was gone in about 2 ½ hours."

He said he's since learned that while the wildfire came right into camp on the southwestern side and burned three trailers, a boat and some stereo equipment not one of the structures was damaged, including nine buildings and a shelter.

Youth from several stakes in Arizona participate in a dance festival.
Youth from several stakes in Arizona participate in a dance festival. Photo: Photo by Jill B. Adair

He said that although he won't know until he's allowed to go back in, he is optimistic that there won't be any major problems in getting the camp back in order and hopes stakes scheduled for later this summer will still be able to attend Young Women camp.