It took just 16 minutes. Agonizing second after second for Freddie Steele to watch his new mobile home fill up with mud, water and rock after rock. And in just over a quarter hour, the rubble filled five feet of his home, leaving only two feet of space below the ceiling.
Freddie Steele explains how the rocks ended up in his home while his wife talks to his father-in-law, Aaron Roberts, a retired miner.
Steele had put his life savings into the new gray trailer that he installed last year. He had planned to open an archery shop in a building alongside. Another small building held thousands of dollars in power equipment. His father in law lived on the hillside above.
Steele planned the homesite carefully. The trailer was on the hillside, across the road from the stream. Just to be sure, he raised it three feet off the ground so any water coming off the hill would go underneath. He didn't figure on rocks.
But there they came that afternoon. When the rain started, he told his wife to go up on the hill to her father's house while he closed up the trailer. All of a sudden water started coming in the door facing the hillside. Then he couldn't hold back the rocks.
He and his family blame timbering and the gas line that went in about 1,000 feet up the road. The gas company cut a 200-foot-wide swath up the mountain on both sides of the road. There was severe washout on both side that helped increase the flooding in Ritter Hollow.
What caused the destruction of his house, Steele believes, were the piles of waste logs left in the hollow behind his house. The gas company dumped some, he believes, as did a logging company that came over to his side of the mountain from a job on the other side. When he hunted up on the mountain, he saw water impounded behind the piles of logs. He believed that water let loose in the storm and caused the erosion that carried the rocks down the hill. Indeed a river of rocks can be seen far up the ravine right next to his trailer.
The insurance company is refusing to pay for damages, saying they don't have flood insurance. It wasn't really a flood, the Steeles argue. Still he vowed to pay off the $14,000 loan on the trailer. "I signed for it," Steele said. FEMA has given them a camper to live in. Steele climbed up the mountain and took photos of the piles of logs. A law firm from Gilbert has taken the case based on those photos.