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Fire gives Springville residents a scare

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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Two helicopters help fight a fire east of Springville on July 26, 2014.

By Matt Canham

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jul 26 2014 09:26AM
Updated Jul 28, 2014 11:09AM

Springville • Seth Ollerton smelled a wildfire early Saturday as he escorted friends to their cars after a get-together, but he thought it was miles away.

It was closer than that, and headed toward his neighborhood. Before the sun rose, the blaze — started by kids playing with fireworks — reached just a few hundred yards from his Springville home.

Firefighters were able to beat it back and the flames retreated up Spring Canyon, slowly burning its face throughout the day. Three helicopters and three small planes battled the fire throughout Saturday, getting water from an inflatable pool set up in the field at Springville High School. As of 10 p.m. Saturday, the fire was 15 percent contained.

But well before the heavy aircraft arrived or even the firefighters, a neighborhood rushed to protect itself.

A neighbor pounded on Ollerton’s door shortly after 2 a.m., warning him of the approaching orange glow. Ollerton phoned his sister, Jennifer Roper, who lives down the street, asking for help. She rushed up the block with her teenage son Sam, and they began to douse the house with a garden hose and sprinklers.

Neighbors were doing the same. And strangers pitched in, helping Ollerton and wife Abbie execute their escape plan. They grabbed family photos, hard drives and clothes for their three kids before Abbie and the children fled to relatives.

Ollerton stayed behind with his sister, watching as firefighters shot a mighty stream of water over the house, hitting the roof, the yard and the trees that delineate the end of his property.

"Pretty soon, it was embarrassing to fight the fire with a garden hose," said Roper. "And then the firefighters asked us to turn off the sprinklers, because it was hitting them in the face as they were trying to set up their hoses."

The flames devoured more than 140 acres but didn’t threaten any of the 10 homes authorities evacuated.

"I want to commend the firefighters on everything they do," Ollerton said. "The firefighters and the people we didn’t even know, who reached out, deserve the recognition."

The day-long firefighting drew crowds. Families set up lawn chairs Saturday to watch the helicopters in action. Among the bystanders were Dean Hawley and Connie Cook, who live a few blocks from the high school.

Hawley, a former wildlands firefighter in California, sat mesmerized by the carousel of helicopters each taking their turn dumping a bucket of water on the flames.

"I love watching the aircraft and watching them work. I’m feeling for the parents of the kids who caused the fire," he said.

Hawley and Cook like to ride their ATVs on the trails in Spring Canyon and the nearby area known as Camelback.

"This is our backyard and it is on fire," Cook said. "It sucks."

The helicopters took a break at midday to refuel. Among them was a black one-seater painted with orange dots, piloted by Tyler Burrows, of Bozeman, Montana. He’s a contact firefighter with Central Copters who spends his summers flying the Western states battling blazes such as this one.

Burrows made 10 passes before he needed to refuel. He said the flames were mainly in the grass and moving away from the city.

"It’s doing its thing," Burrows said. "I’ve seen worse."

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