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Crown King, the town too tough to burn

Mountaintop community bands together after big fire

The main street that runs past the general store in Crown King escaped damage during a summer fire that burned to the edge of the ghost town atop the Bradshaw Mountains north of Phoenix.

The main street that runs past the general store in Crown King escaped damage during a summer fire that burned to the edge of the ghost town atop the Bradshaw Mountains north of Phoenix.

CROWN KING – Main Street looks the same.

Residents of this living ghost town perched atop the Bradshaw Mountains still drive their ATVs to the saloon, one of a few buildings remaining from the days when Crown King was a thriving gold-mining town.

But a shiny red and white fire truck stationed by the general store wasn’t here a few months ago. It was a gift from Sedona, honoring this community’s survival.

The 130 people who call Crown King home now refer to it as “the little town that would not burn.”

From late June into July, the Lane 2 Fire, started by a lost hiker, consumed nearly 10,000 acres of the Prescott National Forest. Several structures in Crown King burned, including two homes, but firefighters saved the town.

Crown King’s sense of community has grown since the fire, said Candita Gamble, a bartender at the saloon who has lived here 14 years. “In my opinion, the fire put a new life into the town,” Gamble said.

Before the fire, she said, people who disagreed would yell at each other. Today, they talk through their problems.

“After the fire, people realized what they could have lost and who they cared about,” she said.

While the community has pulled together, Crown King has been missing many of the 400 people who come here on the weekends to ride ATVs, camp and enjoy the scenery.

Gamble said business was down 90 percent at one point but has gotten closer to normal of late as people realize the town survived the fire. The area around Crown King already is beginning to look better, she said.

“It’s been a fairly quiet summer; we’re not sure how large of a role the fire played,” said Rachel Dunn, one of two full-time members of Crown King’s fire department.

Residents are rallying around the fire department, which consists mostly of volunteers.

Proceeds from “I Support Crown King Fire” T-shirts, which are sold at the fire station and the general store, help fund the department. In addition to the fire truck from Sedona, so much aid had come from other communities that the department is using the donations to remove fuel from around the town to guard against future fires.

“People from all over have been very generous in giving us donations,” said Debbie Savattone, a volunteer firefighter.

Dawn Colt, owner of Crown King’s saloon, was one of those who lost a home in the fire. Crown King has had a few close calls with fires during her 11 years here, but this is the first one that hit home.

“Fire is weird – how it came down and didn’t burn my sister’s house or the neighbor’s on the hill,” she said. “It wiggles around because it has a mind of its own.”

But a new house she is building with help from her son-in-law survived the fire, and Colt expects to move in soon.

“It’ll be a sore subject for a while,” she said. “But the new house is being built.”

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