TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - 16 years ago in June 2003, the Aspen Fire decimated Summerhaven on Mount Lemmon.
Although it was a human-caused fire, it’s a tragic reminder of just how much destruction a fire can do to people’s lives.
“I guess I’m still processing it. Just the devastation. I never imagined losing everything. I mean, it was our home, our store, everything we owned was here and it’s very traumatic," says Phil Mack.
Phil and Carol Mack owned and operated the Mt. Lemmon General Store for close to 20 years. They made the mountain their home, soaking up the Summerhaven way of life, but two days after the Aspen Fire started, it was all gone.
I was here 16 years ago on Inspiration Rock, covering the Aspen Fire when all of a sudden, flames topped a ridge across the canyon. I knew it was bad. I could feel the heat as The flames were quickly spread by wind towards the town of Summerhaven and the order to evacuate was given.
I spoke with a nervous yet optimist Phil and Carol that day, not knowing hours later they would lose everything.
“obviously I’m very concerned. It’s maybe, what, 3/4 of a mile away now and very concerned but they’ve got the best out there doing the best they can,” said Phil.
Sadly, firefighters’ best efforts couldn’t save Summerhaven. In a matter of hours, hundreds of cabins and businesses were destroyed.
“I couldn’t control myself. I just started crying. I couldn’t move,” said Carol. “(We) hugged each other, and cried and tried to take in the reality of not only losing our home and livelihood, but losing our entire village. It is more than I would wish upon anybody to have to go through.”
Despite the surrounding devastation, they saw signs of rebirth and hope. Within a week of the fire, trees began sprouting in the ashes.
“the Aspen trees that you can see today, they’re 30-40 feet tall,” says Phil.
Phil and Carol wasted no time to rebuild the general store. Not to replace the memories, but honor the family the neighborhood had become.
Inside the store today, the original welcome sign charred by the flames sits above the front door with a photo of the iconic hub for the hundreds of people who lived and visited Mount Lemmon.
With the heightened chances of destructive wildfires this year, Phil and Carol want everyone who takes a trip up the mountain to do what they can to prevent another Aspen fire.
“This is an amazing place to be able to come and visit,” says Carol. “Lets honor and cherish what we have by taking care of it.”