Mt. Lemmon General Store owner recalls narrow escape from Bighorn Fire

Posted at 3:11 PM, Jun 08, 2021

SUMMERHAVEN, Ariz. (KGUN) — One year ago, the Bighorn Fire was tearing across the Catalina Mountains and closing in on Mt. Lemmon and Summerhaven.

What a difference a year makes for Mt. Lemmon General Store owner Grey Carpenter.

"Just a little close for comfort," recalled Carpenter after a narrow escape from the flames last June 17.

On that mid-June day, Carpenter had decided to stay behind after evacuation orders had been posted the day before.

Mt. Lemmon General Store

"My wife and son left when the evacuation order was issued," said Carpenter. "I stayed behind to hopefully stay open for the firefighters and kind of take care of people while they were here."

But after just one day of helping those that stayed behind, things changed dramatically.

"Ominous, red glowing black smoke and it was just terrible," Carpenter said. "I was sure we were going to get run over and we weren't going to have anything to come back to. It just seemed like the right time to get out."

Carpenter decided to leave the General Store behind. He stopped at the Mt. Lemmon Fire Department.

RELATED: Timeline: A look back at the Bighorn Fire one year later

Moments after leaving, he looked at the web camera on top of the fire station.

"Right where I had just been parked, the fire was coming up the hillside," Carpenter recalled. "It's very famous footage now where it just burned up around the fire station and all up through there."

After seeing it live on the web cam, Carpenter says he made the right decision.

A week later, wildland firefighters had to stop the Bighorn Fire from coming into Summerhaven from the opposite direction. They did, and Caprenter remains grateful.

Bighorn Fire burn scar near Mt. Lemmon Fire Department

It's been almost a year since the fire was contained. Carpenter says his store has been able to survive and now thrive.

"Business is fantastic, business is great."

Carpenter says he's already seeing an increase in business since the opening this spring of the Mt. Lemmon Hotel.

Plus, there's the steady stream of Tucsonans trying to beat the heat and grab a sweet treat.

Mt. Lemmon General Store owner Grey Carpenter

"People love the fudge and that's what they come here for," said Carpenter. "We appreciate their business."

Carpenter says he's also looking forward to the opening next spring of the Mount Lemmon Lodge directly across the road from the general store.

It will have 16 guest rooms and a Beyond Bread cafe.