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Residents displaced by Tunnel Fire grapple with loss, uncertainty

Burned car
Ashlee Binderin
All that's left of Ashlee's '66 Mustang after the Tunnel Fire

An estimated thirty homes were destroyed in the Tunnel Fire, among them, the home of local artist and financial counselor Ashlee Binderim. She rented the house in Timberline for six years and barely got out with her husband, dogs, and cat. She spoke with KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny about the grief of losing so much, including her chickens and a classic ’66 Mustang, and the uncertainty of what comes next.

How did you evacuation go, were you home when the GO order came?

Yes, I happened to be home. It kind of started like a normal day, I had a dentist appointment that morning, I just got home from my dentist appointment, and I looked outside—actually I smelled smoke first and so I went to look outside, and saw smoke billowing up fairly close… So between SET and GO we had maybe thirty minutes to actually pack our entire lives together and leave.

What were you able to get out?

I was able to grab a couple of priceless keepsakes to me, photo albums, my grandfather’s Bible, a couple of jewelry items that are meaningful. And my animals, and maybe a couple of suitcases and that’s it…. We also had a flock of chickens that unfortunately we just did not have time to get out, so we lost them.

What’s next for you, do you know if you’re going to rebuild or move, are you still debating what to do?

We’re taking it day by day…We need to—our renter’s insurance will kick in and they’re going to give us a place for about a month, and after that, we don’t know what we’re doing yet, we have no idea.

Ashlee, what do you need from the local community, or from the local agencies in the area, what would be helpful to help you recover?

Gosh, the community has been so helpful and amazing…. There’s no words to say how thankful we are. We went to the yard sale at Calvary Bible Church… they were just so many—literally trailers full of clothes, that church was covered in donation items. We feel overwhelmed by the support. I feel like our community has just wrapped their arms around us all, that’s what I love so much about Flagstaff, that small town feel where everybody wants to love and care for each other during hard times like this.

Just tell me how you’re feeling right now?

I’m feeling a lot of feelings. It’s hard to put into words, exactly – I’m feeling grateful and thankful of the support and the fact that we made it out alive. I’m grieving, simultaneously. I sit and lay in bed and we’ll kind of run through our home, every little nook and cranny, every bookshelf, every cupboard, every room, all the things we lost, and every day there’s something else I remember that we lost. That really does comes in waves…. I lost my 1966 Mustang which my dad and I built together. Between my flock and chickens that I loved so dearly, and my Mustang, those are the biggest things that I just—it’s really hard to process that…. I got it before I could legally drive, we literally built it from the ground up… It’s all gone. There’s no way to salvage anything on it. That’s heartbreaking for me.

Ashlee, I really appreciate you taking the time to share with me, and I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Thanks so much.


Ashlee Binderin was restoring this '66 Mustang with her father; all it needed was a new coat of paint, before the Tunnel Fire destroyed it.
Ashlee Binderin
Ashlee Binderin was restoring this '66 Mustang with her father; all it needed was a new coat of paint, before the Tunnel Fire destroyed it.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.