Families rush from homes as 243 Fire burns through Grant County

A 5,000-acre fire — dubbed the 243 Fire by officials — tore through the Smyrna Canyon near Royal City on Tuesday, prompting level three evacuations as it threatened dozens of homes, families and animals.

“I saw that the wind was picking up and I thought ‘oh no, it’s coming our way,'” remembers Mary Vasquez, who grew up in the canyon alongside her sisters Rosie and Eloise.

The Vasquez sisters had no choice but to pack up and leave Tuesday, as the flames drove them from their childhood home to the Royal Intermediate School’s gym, where the Red Cross set up an evacuation center.

“We’ve done this before,” said Mary. “We’ve had the drill before and we’ve evacuated before.”

But that didn’t make Tuesday’s evacuation any less scary or stressful. The fire ballooned from 300 acres Monday night to 5,000 acres Tuesday afternoon. Fire crews battled high winds, dry brush and steep terrain as they struggled to contain the fire, while the Vasquez sisters sat and hoped for the best.

“If you don’t believe good’s gonna come of this, you’re gonna be a basket case,” Mary said. “You have to have a belief in something. You have to believe that everything is gonna be okay.”

Even if it’s not, they have each other — and this community — to lean on.

“Royal City’s our family too,” said Mary. “This community pulls together and it’ll pull together again.”

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