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Jun 17, 2013 7:00 PM by Danielle Lerner

How the Aspen fire changed the "soul" of Summerhaven

SUMMERHAVEN- Monday marks ten years since the Aspen Fire ripped across the top of Mount Lemmon, destroying nearly 340 homes and businesses, and scorching more than 84,000 acres. That wildfire forever changed the physical landscape of Summerhaven, and those living and working there say it also altered the town's soul.

Life after the Aspen Fire is a mix of pros and cons. On one hand Summerhaven residents say the area has lost that small village feel, but on the other they say business is better than ever.

"Right now we have about 30 people here 24-7, we had well over 100 before," said Phil Mack, co-owner of the General Store.

Mack's business and attached home burned to the ground in the Aspen Fire.

"Lit embers were falling out of the sky when I left," said Mack.

The General Store is back up and running but Mack says the sleepy, tight-knit town he used to know disappeared with the flames.

"We don't have the small community feel that we used to have," he said. "It just changed in the dynamics of who lives here."

Mack says tourists provide most of his business now, while luxury, custom-built cabins have priced younger families out of the market.

Real Estate Broker Karen Shunk sees those changes every day.

"This is a whole different world that we live in now on Mount Lemmon," said Shunk.

Multi-million dollar homes now pepper the mountaintop.

"It was totally unpretentious, everybody just enjoyed their life, they came up here for peace and quiet and to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life," she said. "Now suburbia has come to Mount Lemmon."

The spike in tourism is a business owner's dream and even the physical scars have started to fade.

Still, even 10 years later, the emotional scars remain.

"After the fire so many people helped us, and people have no idea how much that means to someone whose lost everything," Shunk said through tears.

"Things change and you got to be flexible if you're up here," said Mack, "and that's what we do."

Fire investigators think a cigarette butt sparked the Aspen Fire. At one time they focused on a Tucson man who lied to authorities about what he was doing on Mount Lemmon that day, but no one was ever formally charged in the case.

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