HEBER, Arizona — It's not how the Mogollon High School varsity football team planned to celebrate their road game victory.
The Arizona 1A Conference Champions three years running had just defeated Mayer High School 66-0. About 40 players and coaches packed onto their bus to head back home to Heber.
Not even halfway into their nearly three-hour drive, their school bus caught fire. Everyone inside made it off the bus safely, but the bus and everything left inside were destroyed.
“I just thought it was crazy," team captain Keagan Porter said. " I didn’t think anything like that could ever happen to us.”
Sophomore Byrson Kelton was sitting near the back of the bus. He said ten minutes into their drive, he heard a loud pop and then started to smell burning rubber.
"Then there was fire that came up through the plastic behind me," Kelton said. “There was so much smoke.”
At this point, the bus had already stopped with head coach Rick Samon evacuating students. Everyone made it off safely as the driver tried to knock down the flames with a fire extinguisher.
“It wasn’t going out with the fire extinguisher,” Samon said.
Video taken that night shows firefighters arrive as flames consumed the entire bus.
"Ten and 12-foot flames coming out the back of the bus," Samon said.
Nothing survived the fire. Backpacks, cell phones, and football gear were all gone. Samon said one student's three championship rings were also destroyed in the fire.
The next day an assistant coach and the booster club had an idea to set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to help cover some of the losses.
"The people around here have always supported our school," Samon said.
Within 24 hours, nearly $7,000 was raised from people not only in Heber, but across the state. Those in charge of the page even stopped taking donations. Still, schools reached out to Samon to offer help in any way they could. Offering players football pads and helmets. Anything to get them back on the field.
"That is overwhelming to see that kind of support," Samon said
His team is incredibly grateful for the generosity shown by so many. Samon said it shows just how much love the community has for their team.
"I don’t even know if thanks is enough for what they were willing to do for us," Samon said.
It means we have people that care about us, care about our team and just helps us out a lot," Kelton said.
Right now, Samon said they are still working on getting a new bus for away games and still trying to identify everything burning the fire.
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