By Steven Shaff, NAU Media Relations
EAGER, Ariz. - Former Lumberjack Robert Haws is a protector. As an All-American offensive lineman, he blocked for his quarterback and running backs with great skill. But he met a new foe last month that was hard to get a hold of and still is.
“I have never felt helpless before,” said Haws this week about the Wallow Fire. “When you are playing football, it is you and the guy you are supposed to block. I never felt intimidated or like I could not do something. Against this fire you are helpless.”
Haws, who was born in Eager and lives there today with his wife, Marci, and five daughters, faced the largest wildfire in Arizona history and he and his home have come out unscathed, physically.
“You are running scared just trying to get what matters because if it decides to come with you, you are going to get whipped,” said Haws. “Playing football is something you can change. It was different running from something you have no control over.”
Haws and his family were camping over Memorial Day when the fire started. They saw the early smoke near where they had setup camp.
“We could tell there was fire,” said Haws. “But we did not think anything about it. Of course the next day we got the word on how big it had gotten. It was crazy. This is where I grew up.”
Haws and his wife made an early decision to pack up their belongings, a decision that eased the rush of the later evacuation.
“I talked to my wife and we decided what was important as far as her pictures and the computer and stuff to her that was invaluable,” said Haws, who lives on the south end of town and was one of the first evacuated. “All the rest of the stuff is just stuff. It can be replaced. That is why we decided what was important early and got it packed up and got them out before we were even evacuated.”
Haws, who raises horses and cows in his spare time, got his family to safety and then returned to take care of his livestock. After everyone was safe, he returned to work with Tucson Electric Power and waited. Fortunately the fire never reached Eager but it sure came close.
“When they lose 12 homes in Greer that is not very far from here,” said Haws. “The fire reached a family park three miles south of where I live. Three miles with 40 miles per hour wind is not much.”
Haws, who has returned to his home without his family at this point, says the impact on his hometown and surrounding area will be huge.
“It is really going to impact Eager big time, more than people think,” said Haws. “Eager in the summer time is a big tourist place. We got a lot of campers and the mountains I grew up in hunting and fishing were burnt from Big Lake all the way to the New Mexico state line. We have not even seen it yet. They are not going to want to come and look at black forest. It is disheartening. This is where I grew up.”
Haws, who played at NAU from 1998-01, was an All-Big Sky first-team selection and was a Football Gazette Honorable Mention All-America selection after starting at left tackle in all 11 regular season games and the NCAA I-AA playoff contest in 2001. He was a member of an offensive line that produced 201.9 yards per game on the ground and Offensive unit ranked that second in the Big Sky Conference and 25th in the I-AA in rushing offense.
The Lumberjacks went to the playoffs in both 1999 and 2001 during his career, a feat unmatched in school history.
“It felt like something was accomplished in the program and I had a part of that,” said Haws of his team’s two playoff berths. “It was a good accomplishment.”
Photo Credit: US Forest Service and Dean Hendrickson (Haws)