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Monument fire spares Sierra Vista Jewish community

Monument fire view from Temple Kol Hamidbar parking lot in Sierra Vista (Ben Caron)

Usually a peaceful place, Dr. Samuel and Mary Caron’s house recently stood at the edge of a fiery maelstrom: the Monument wildfire, which as of Monday had burned 30,526 acres in Cochise County, but was considered 85 percent contained. The Caron home is at the bottom of Carr Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains in Hereford, on the outskirts of Sierra Vista.

When the couple left home on June 16 to attend B’nai Mitzvah celebrations with family in Topeka, Kan., they didn’t know the fire, which started June 12, would make them evacuees upon their return on June 20.

Their sons, Ben, 35, and Jeremey, 27, who live in Sierra Vista, stayed to monitor the situation as it deteriorated. “We had no idea of the severity of the fire, that it would get that close,” Ben, 35, told the AJP on June 21.

On June 16, the two brothers intended to check on their parents’ house. On the way, they stopped at Home Depot to purchase weed whackers and gloves, hoping that clearing some of the brush around the house might reduce the fire hazard.

As Ben and Jeremey pulled onto Highway 92, about one mile from the house, they discovered that the road was closed but managed to gain access. “The fire looked really close,” says Ben. “We started grabbing some important documents, childhood photos and photos of our ancestors, artwork, our parents’ medication supply, and our grandmother’s silver set.”

At that point, they still didn’t think that the fire would reach their parents’ house, “but it came within yards,” notes Ben. On June 24, almost all evacuations were lifted, and Ben told the AJP the Caron house “didn’t even have smoke damage.”

Sam, a child psychologist at the U.S. Army Fort Huachuca, is president and lay leader of Temple Kol Hamidbar, which numbers around 25 members.

The synagogue, which is in the northwest part of town, was not in any imminent danger. The brothers, who live next door, gave shelter to several evacuees.

Ben praised the “phenomenal expertise” of the firefighters, who helped to minimize the fire’s spread.

“We don’t know of any members of the [Sierra Vista] Jewish community who have lost their homes, but a few people are out of town,” Sam told the AJP on June 22.

The Carons spent their first night home from Kansas at a Tucson hotel. Prior to their trip, in anticipation of being evacuated, they packed their most important papers — and Sam, a ventriloquist who uses puppets in his psychology practice and during services at Temple Kol Hamidbar, also packed his puppets.

“My wife thought I was a meshugana (crazy person),” he says.