Rose Crest Fire: Herriman residents’ despair turns to relief
Most homes and animal sanctuary are spared as residents express gratitude for fire crews.
Published: July 2, 2012 07:21AM
Updated: July 3, 2012 09:34AM
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Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune While stopped at a traffic light, Faith Ching looks back at her cargo of four dogs, one pot-bellied pig and a turkey that she is driving back to her property in Herriman, Sunday, July 1, 2012. Officials expected the area to be declared 100 percent out by Sunday night after hot spots were doused.

Herriman • Faith Ching loaded up her truck with as many dogs and cats as she could and pulled away from her animal sanctuary, her heart sick with the belief all would be lost in the fire raging down the hillside toward her Herriman home.

“All I could say to the ones we left behind was that I was sorry,” she said. “I knew for sure they were going to be burned alive.”

Luckily Ching’s despair turned into relief Sunday as she and other residents forced to evacuate by the Rose Crest Fire were allowed to return.

Most of the homes and Ching’s five-acre animal sanctuary were saved.

Four homes were destroyed by the fire along with some other non-residential buildings, but most residents returned Sunday to find their homes were intact, even though charred evidence showed just how close they came to losing everything.

“The firefighters did a remarkable job,” said Diane Mitchell as she looked out from her home that was surrounded by a scorched landscape three-quarters of the way around the house. “You can re-seed grass, but you can’t re-seed homes and memories.”

The Rose Crest Fire, which started Friday afternoon when a truck’s hot exhaust pipe ignited dry grass, forced the evacuation of an estimated 950 homes and burned 669 acres. It was about 60 percent contained as of Sunday night.

Residents believe if it weren’t for the quick response of emergency personnel or the turning of the winds, more would have been lost. Mitchell said the fire was moving so fast over the hillside above her home she only had time to round up her husband and dogs to leave.

“I thought everything was going to be gone,” she said.

While the house does have some smoke damage and the yard must be landscaped, the structure was safe.

“We are lucky,” said Diane’s son, Chris. “It was an amazing effort by everyone. I was in the military so I respect anyone that can hold their line, and they did just that. Those guys held their line.”

As he spoke, a line of firefighters patrolled through his backyard making sure the fire was out.

The home across the street wasn’t so lucky as it was completely leveled by the fire.

A few blocks away, Shawn Meik stood gazing at the destruction that stopped just a few feet from his horse corral.

During Friday’s blaze, a firefighter stood ready to let his horse free if necessary, but such action wasn’t needed.

Unfortunately Meik’s worries aren’t over. He fears his cabin has been lost in the Church Camp Fire near Duchesne, one of the many fires the state has endured as dry, windy conditions leave the state susceptible to wildfires.

“Two fires in over a week, that is too much,” Meik said.

It is too much for Ching as well, who along with numerous volunteers spent most of Sunday moving her animals home after evacuating them to the Equestrian Park and Events Center in South Jordan and from other locations.

Her five-acre sanctuary is home to more than 30 goats, 12 sheep, 10 emus, 17 horses, more than 100 birds, 23 pigs and a menagerie of dogs and cats.

Evacuating them and then loading them up to bring them home was no small task.

On Friday, volunteers stood ready to evacuate animals as the firefighters kept an eye on the flames, allowing some rescuers in as the winds swept away then closing off the area as the flames drew closer.

“The way that everyone came together to help us, it was a blessing,” Ching said. “People who didn’t even know about us until they saw us on the news were driving from downtown to help us. It was an amazing effort.”

On one of her many trips Sunday she pointed frustratingly to a fireworks stand just a few minutes from her property, worried that this week’s festivities could set off more blazes. “We shouldn’t be having those,” she said.

Gov. Gary Herbert has not implemented a statewide ban due to the Utah Fireworks Act, which says cities can’t enact ordinances that prohibit people from discharging legal fireworks from July 1-7 and July 21-27.

State law does grant authority to cities to restrict the use of fireworks to certain areas and there are some restrictions in place, such as several bans covering the areas along the foothills.

On Friday Herbert sent a letter to religious leaders asking for their prayers for residents and fire crews working to contain the blazes.

“We are in need of an extra measure of help as we battle these conflagrations,” he wrote.

For many in the Herriman area, they feel as if some of their prayers already have been answered.

“We didn’t lose anything,” Ching said. “It was a blessing.”

On Saturday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved a Fire Management Assistance Grant for the Rose Crest Fire, one of 21 approved for Western states this fire season.

The grants are made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster. Eligible items can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; mobilization and demobilization activities; and tools, materials and supplies.

Federal agencies have also deployed 22 Incident Management Teams to help provide a coordinated and aggressive response to wildfires across the country, including Utah’s Seeley Fire.

Two new wildfires erupted Sunday afternoon, one in southern Utah’s Kane County, about 30 miles southwest of Bryce Canyon, and another in Cache County, about five miles south of Logan.

Millville Canyon • Cache County fire crews were battling a human-caused fire in Millville Canyon, which had burned 120 acres by 10:30 p.m. No structures were threatened, according to a tweet from Logan City Fire.

Cache County Fire Marshal Jason Winn said the fire was started by target shooters at about 4 p.m. Two people have been questioned and released pending further investigation, Logan fire officials said. More than 20 fires have been started this year by gunfire.

The blaze was burning in steep terrain east of the town of Millville, and the closest home was a half mile away, said Winn, who expected no evacuations.

Shingle Fire • In Kane County, crews were fighting a blaze on forest land that by 9:30 p.m. had burned 500 acres. Tina Greenhalgh, with the Color Country Interagency Fire Center, said about 100 cabins were initially threatened by the human-caused Shingle Fire. Residents of cabins in Swains Creek and Stout Creek were evacuated.

Elsewhere in the state, Sunday’s continued hot, dry weather gave no relief to crews battling wildfires.

Clay Springs Fire • The state’s largest active wildfire, the Clay Springs Fire in Millard County, grew by more than 10,000 acres from Saturday to Sunday to nearly 100,000 acres and was 40 percent contained. The fire was threatening 75 buildings and had destroyed one summer home and two outbuildings. About 450 personnel are fighting the blaze.

Seeley Fire • Last estimated at 23,410 acres in Carbon County, the blaze was 4 percent contained. Full-time residents of Scofield may return to their homes but must get an access pass from the emergency center at 1550 E. Airport Road in Price. The greater Scofield area and Clear Creek remain under evacuation.

Wolf Den Fire • In Uintah County, the Wolf Den Fire nearly doubled in size to 15,800 acres overnight.

“It’s blown up,” said fire spokeswoman Kelsey Birchell. Though it wasn’t threatening any homes, crews had to act quickly to protect oil and gas wells. It was zero percent contained Sunday.

Church Camp Fire • In Duchesne County, the Church Camp Fire was last estimated at about 6,000 acres and is 55 percent contained. Fire crews doing a burnout operation were able to stop it from impacting Indian Canyon and U.S. Highway 191 overnight. The mandatory evacuation for Argyle Canyon and the road closure for the canyon remains in effect but Highway 191 remains open.

Pole Creek Fire • Also in Duchesne County, the blaze had burned more than 2,000 acres and was 75 percent contained.

Wood Hollow Fire • Last estimated at more than 47,387 acres in Sanpete County, the fire is 80 percent contained, and crews were being reassigned to other fires. One person died and 160 structures were destroyed, 52 of them primary dwellings.

New Harmony Fire • Crews achieved 100 percent containment Saturday night on the 1,827-acre fire in Washington County.

Tribune reporter Erin Alberty contributed to this story.

lwodraska@sltrib.com