KNAU and Arizona News
3:21 am
Fri April 3, 2009

Fire Chars GCY Warehouse

Flagstaff, AZ – Grand Canyon Youth NEEDS: Computers, plastic bins, shelving, Paco pads, side boxes, buckets, ammo cans, rope, cam straps, Grand Canyon and San Juan River related books, oar locks, oar stands, tools of any kind, fun box items like decks of cards, finger nail polish, art supplies and financial donations.

GCY will hold an open house at their new location Friday, April 10, at 5:30 p.m. at their new location across from Home Depot at 1645 South Plaza Way.Call GCY at 928-773-7921 for more information.

The family that was evicted by the fire is also accepting donations at Decker Outdoor Corporation at 123 North Leroux Street in downtown Flagstaff.

Volunteers have been helping Grand Canyon Youth move out of its charred warehouse and into its new facility this week. On Tuesday morning a fire burned the warehouse and destroyed much of their equipment inside. The Flagstaff non profit takes hundreds of kids on river trips through Grand Canyon each year. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales has this story.

Grand Canyon Youth Executive Director Emma Wharton stands amidst charred insulation as she inventories what remains from the fire. She says the smell of fire follows her everywhere. Wind kicks up a cloud of ash from the blackened warehouse. Plastic bins filled with food and supplies have melted into abstract shapes.

Several volunteers load a truck with dry bags, straps and other river gear that dodged the flames Tuesday.

SFX: thump of rope and gear going into truck

At four o'clock in the morning Wharton received a call from the Flagstaff Fire Department alerting her that the GCY building was on fire. The family who lived in the apartment above the warehouse evacuated in time.

Emma Wharton arrived to find firefighters spraying down the Grand Canyon Youth building.

WHARTON: I've built it from six programs to 35 programs. It's just been this labor of love for everybody. So to come and see so much of it destroyed was really hard.

The organization works with kids -- many at risk or with disabilities -- to get them on the river and involved in their community feeding the hungry, working with animals and conducting other service projects. The fire couldn't have happened at a worse time as their season just started. But GCY does not plan to cancel any trips.

WHARTON: Kids work really hard to go on our programs and they've been planning on them for six plus months and so we wanted to keep those going.

With one trip already on the water Wharton looks on the bright side - at least they have the equipment in tact from that trip. And boats had been stored outside the warehouse. Wharton says the river has prepared her to deal with this crisis.

WHARTON: When you're looking at a rapid you just have to respond to what's happening as you're going down the river. You just do your best to respond to what's happening. And I just feel like because we're such a great river community that that's what we did. We said this just happened. What can we do next?

The Flagstaff Fire Department estimates about 750-thousand dollars in damage. Wharton says she doesn't know yet what their insurance will cover.

Fire investigators are still looking into the cause but say the source was probably electrical wiring.

Thanks to a Grand Canyon Youth board member, the organization already has a new space for the season.

WHARTON: We haven't really mourned the loss of our space yet cuz we're really focused on getting our programs going. But at the end of one of the most surreal days I was just overcome by sheer gratefulness.

GCY plans to have an open house at their new location at 1645 South Plaza Way next Friday evening.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.