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Jun 12, 2014 10:26 PM by Lauren Reimer

Survivors look back on the Monument Fire three years later

COCHISE COUNTY - Three years ago, Mother Nature re-painted the landscape south of Sierra Vista. It took three weeks to put out and when it was all over, the Monument Fire had burned 30,000 acres, and 60 homes were gone.

One of the homes belonged to Dr. John Herrod. The building he and his wife called home for nearly two decades was nothing more than concrete and ashes.

The fire burned so hot, glass and metal inside melted.

"For the first two years it was pretty tough," says Herrod. "We lived in an area that was actually quite pretty, and then after the fire, immediately after it was just black. Absolutely nothing. "

The property has been kept behind a locked gate since then, nearly untouched. Over time nature has started to reclaim the land, plants and flowers are growing near what used to be the home's front door.

Many of the people who lived in Ash Canyon have not returned, including the Herrods.

"I think three or four houses have been rebuilt, a couple new ones from people that weren't in the fire. But most of them are gone," says Herrod.

Herrod says his policy with Farmers Insurance of Arizona left him without enough coverage to rebuild. The size of the house was the reason for debate.

"When you buy insurance, you're buying some ethereal product that you have no idea what you've purchased until it's too late to do anything about it," says Herrod.

Unwilling to accept the amount offered, Herrod chose to fight for more, and hired Attorney Rob Ryan out of Phoenix.

"In most instances, the homeowners simply settle and don't realize there are other ways to rectify and under insured situation," says Ryan.

They've sued the company for insurance of bad faith and negligence in setting the value of the insurance limits.

Farmers Insurance says as a matter of policy, it is unable to comment on claims that are pending litigation.

"Imagine if you will, you lose every worldly possession that you have, and then find out that you're not covered enough to rebuild an regain what you had," says Ryan.

As far as possessions go, it's not the ones with financial value the Herrods miss most. "There were heirlooms from my great-great grandparents. Pictures of kids when they were little, things like that are irreplaceable," says Herrod. "In preparing for emergency evacuations, people need to sit down and go over a list of what they would miss most."

Areas the fire missed, were hit by a flood one year later. Most of the plants were turned to ash, so when the monsoon came the following year, there was nothing to stop the water from crashing down the mountain.

"Well we were sitting on the porch and didn't realize it was raining up above so hard," says Lorena Martin, who lived in Miller Canyon.

Flood waters came rushing down from the mountains. "Sounded like a freight train coming down the tracks," recalls her husband, Jim Martin.

Water and debris poured into their home through the living room windows. "It was a mess, it was a total disaster," says Lorena.

Three years later, the Martins have put a stone wall in their back yard, and reinforced screens on the windows.

"This is a project that will never be finished," says Jim. But it may not be enough.

Tom Beatty and his family live higher up in the Huachuca Mountains, they're always the first to know when a flood is coming.

"A lot of people have kind of gotten a little complacent because nothing big has happened since the first one. So they feel pretty safe but if a real big one like three inch rain it could still jump those channels that they're happy with."

He's dealt with flood damage of his own. The same event that nearly wiped the Martins' home off the map also hit the Beatty's home.

It deposited boulders, some the size of a small car, on the property. Beatty says the next time it rains, they're going to keep moving. "All this stuff you see here eventually will make its way down to cause other problems down below."

The plants that would normally soak up the rain have been slow to grow back. "It's going to be another couple of years probably at least three maybe five years."

And as in many parts of the state, Hereford is going through a drought. Beatty says he would love to see some rain, just in small doses.

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