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Cochise County resident recovering after losing home in Williams Fire

Cochise County resident recovering after losing home in Williams Fire last week
Posted at 5:43 PM, Apr 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-10 20:43:42-04

HEREFORD, Ariz. (KGUN) — Joy Vanveen left her house last Monday for a quick trip to Benson. Little did she know that would be the last time she would be able to step through her front door.

“I was just so frantic," Vanveen said. "I was hoping I wasn’t going to be stopped by police because I was not keeping to the speed limit. I could see the smoke and I could see when it changed from white to a column of black.”

The Williams Fire desroyed 500 acres east of Palominas last week and claimed two homes near the San Pedro River. Vanveen lived in one of those home since 2006. There, she ran her businesses of breeding puppies and training them to be guide dogs. She has been in the dog training business since she was in high school, and has been following her passion since.

Vanveen says it takes a minimum of 18 months to train a dog to be a guide dog and can take up to two years to finish the training. When she is finished training the dog, she invites a student — someone who is blind and in need of guide dog — to participate in team training. At the time of the fire, Vanveen had a total of eight dogs in the house, including three now 3-week-old puppies.

Vanveen was notified of the fire and the evacuations from a friend who was staying with her. The partially blind friend was guided out of the house by one of the dogs Vanveen was training. Saoirse Kraft, one of Vanveen's students, is training with the guide dog that helped the woman out of the burning house—the very dog set to become her guide dog.

“I think I was in shock," Kraft said. "I think I still am in shock. Even though I didn’t lose anything personally. I mean these are people that I really care about. I just feel an incredible sense of sadness.”

With the help of firefighters, animal control and Vanveen's neighbor all of the dogs were removed from the home safely.

“It still hasn’t hit me," Vanveen said. "I had one day when I cramped up and I was just sick all day you know just couldn’t go anywhere.”

Her service dog — the father of the puppies — passed away shortly after the fire. Vanveen said she is going to keep one of the puppies so she still has a piece of her other dog.

Since the fire, Vanveen said she has received more support from the community than she imagined possible. People are giving her dog supplies and donating to her through a GoFundMe page.

"I knew there were kind people in Cochise County but there are so many more than I thought," she said.

Vanveen plans on reopening her school. She is looking for a new location and even though she's living with a friend and all seven dogs are separated, she is still training them.

Alexis Ramanjulu is a reporter in Cochise County for KGUN 9. She began her journalism career reporting for the Herald/Review in Sierra Vista, which she also calls home. Share your story ideas with Alexis by emailing or by connecting on Facebook.