Quantcast

Wildfire continues to rage across Utah's Sanpete County

Published June 26, 2012 8:04 am

Wildfires • Officials say they don't know cause of Wood Hollow blaze, but that copper thieves may have caused a short circuit by compromising transmission equipment.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Moroni • Janice and David Taylor spent Saturday night knocking on doors in a southern subdivision of Indianola, warning residents to evacuate ahead of the raging Wood Hollow wildfire.

At six the next morning, the couple got the call to leave their own home of 12 years in the Indian Ridge area of Indianola.

The flames reached the Taylors' home at about noon Sunday, making theirs one of the 15 residences confirmed to have been burned down by the Wood Hollow Fire, which has consumed 38,928 acres in Sanpete County.

There was "a wall of fire, 100 feet high," said David Taylor, recounting what Fairview Fire Chief Jeff Cox had told him. "When the wind was blowing, the flames weren't shooting up, they were shooting straight ahead."

"They were so engaged helping others in the fire, they literally lost everything but the clothes on their back," said Sanpete County Commissioner Spencer Cox.

The couple had a fifth-wheel trailer packed and ready to go for the evacuation, but didn't get back to it in time.

"The trailer is now a puddle of aluminum," Cox said.

Despite their loss, David Taylor, a volunteer firefighter and commander of Sanpete County Search and Rescue, and Janice Taylor continued coordinating the evacuations.

"I'm surprised they're still here [helping out], but I guess when you lose everything there's nothing else to do. There's nothing to go home to, there's nothing to go get," said the couple's daughter-in-law, Tamera Taylor, of Moroni.

As the flames continued to blacken Sanpete County, another wildfire ignited in Duchesne County, destroying buildings and threatening other structures.

The Church Camp fire increased in size tenfold during Monday afternoon and evening, reaching 1,000 acres as of 7:30 p.m. as it burned 19 miles southwest of Duchesne near U.S Highway 191 in Argyle Canyon.

In a press conference Monday in Sanpete County, Gov. Gary Herbert said the Wood Hollow Fire had consumed 38,928 acres and burned 25 to 30 homes and cabins (although only 15 residences had been confirmed destroyed by Monday evening).

About 1,000 to 2,000 people have been evacuated, but Herbert said firefighters hope some of those people can return home Tuesday.

"This fire situation is about more than cheat grass and scrub oak," Herbert said in late afternoon comments at the Utah State Capitol. "It's about people."

Herbert mentioned the Taylors, in particular, saying: "They literally lost everything."

The flames took a toll on animals, too, killing 215 sheep and 11 horses, fire officials said.

Robin Anderson was one resident evacuated Sunday from her home about a quarter mile north of the Indian Ridge area. Since the fire began she hasn't had any rest.

"I haven't slept for two days, I'm worried about my friends in Oaker Hills," Anderson said as she began to cry. "I know a lot of people that lost their homes, it is hard."

She lives on the east side of U.S. Highway 89 and hopes her home was spared.

"I don't think my house burned, but I don't know," she said. "It is a mess."

She stayed with family Sunday night in southern Utah County and planned on Monday to see what damage was done near her home.

Anderson also runs the thrift store, Time and Again Thrift, at 44 S. Main in Fairview, and is hoping the public will donate bedding, clothing, blankets, or personal hygiene to benefit fire victims.

When evacuation orders came Sunday, the fire came faster than Anderson thought.

"We had 15 minutes left to grab what we had and run," Anderson said.

They got their dog, but couldn't round up their goat, some chickens and a house cat before they had to flee. The American Red Cross of Utah said they had no evacuees stay at their shelter Sunday night and as of early Monday morning, none had stopped to eat a complementary breakfast at North Sanpete High School on 400 E. Hawk Boulevard (700 South).

Herbert said the Wood Hollow Fire is estimated to have caused $7 million in property damage. He also reiterated the importance of an already-in-place fireworks ban on all property controlled by state and federal areas and a ban on campfires outside of established sites. Four hundred wildfires have scorched the state so far, before the start of wildfire season, and 380 of those were caused by people.

With the Wood Hollow Fire, Utah appears to have already passed its 2011 total of 62,783 acres burned by wildfires. Utah set its record in 2007 when 620,730 acres burned.

"Something's out of whack. We've got to do better. We can do better," Herbert said.

The Wood Hollow Fire was 15 percent contained, according to Mike Whalen, the fire's incident commander.

The flames had threatened 300 residences, he said. Nobody was injured in the blaze.

By Monday evening, winds had calmed a bit, making it easier to fight the fire. Nearly 400 firefighters and support staff were fighting the fire. Eight helicopters were dropping water and two airplane tankers were dropping water or retardant.

After being closed most of Sunday, U.S. Highway 89 in Sanpete County had reopened to traffic, but authorities were asking people to avoid that stretch of roadway if possible to allow fire crews access.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for Indianola, Oaker Hills and a string of other communities along Highway 89 on the north end of Sanpete County, including Water Hollow, Hideaway Valley, Panorama Heights, Baldy, Elk Ridge, Big Hollow and Indian Ridge.

FEMA announced it had authorized the use of federal funds to help cover the firefighting costs of the blaze. FEMA said it can use federal money to pay 75 percent of the state's eligible costs for managing, mitigating and controlling the fire. Those funds cannot be used to assist home or business owners.

Fire investigators have determined humans caused the Sanpete County fire, but what exactly sparked it remained under investigation.

Rocky Mountain Power reported Monday that a short circuit on a transmission structure in the area could have caused the fire, adding that copper thieves may have compromised the integrity of the transmission equipment.

"A recent copper theft resulting in the removal of critical ground wires on this and adjacent structures was found during this investigation and is a likely contributing factor," wrote Jeff Hymas, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power.

All five major fires burning in Utah on Monday are suspected to have been caused by humans. At the Quail Fire in Leeds, the man who started the fire by burning cheat grass was cited with a misdemeanor count of reckless burning.

Along with fireworks, guns, campfires and irrigation ditch burning, Herbert warned people to watch for hot engines, especially off-road, and dragging safety chains behind cars. He vowed to pursue igniters.

"If you start a fire, expect it will be a big bill you are going to pay," he said.

Recent history has shown that is difficult. The Tribune reported last year that humans who start fires are rarely caught and prosecuted, and most individuals do not have the means to make restitution. A few businesses and organizations have been made to pay over the years, but they seldom cover the entire cost of fighting the fire.

Fire danger remained high across many of Utah's matchbox-like tinder forests and desert land. Red Flag warnings remained in effect for the area and through many areas around the state. Between extremely low humidities, raging southwest winds, triple digit temperatures the state is capable of "explosive fire danger" until Tuesday, according to The National Weather Service who said fuels on the mountains are the driest they have been in the past 20 years.

"We've got a real disaster situation out there," said Utah Fire Marshal Dick Buehler. Between the now-dry vegetation that proliferated during a wet 2011 and this year's hot, dry weather, the state has "some of the worst burn conditions I've seen for a long time."

And there's no evident break on the horizon: Tuesday is predicted to bring thunderstorms with lightning and strong gusty winds.

Other active fires in Utah include:

Church Camp Fire • Fire crews identified and evacuated 83 buildings at risk early Monday, said Louis J. Haynes, spokesman for the Ashley National Forest. They know some of them have been destroyed, but they don't know which buildings or how many were affected. Smoke is too thick and the fire too intense to allow crews to assess damage, he said.

"We saw some pretty extreme fire behavior with the wind behind it," Haynes said. "There was alignment with the wind, fuels and slope."

Crews reported flames as high as 200 feet. The fire was jumping from treetop to treetop, torching trees from their trunks and spitting embers up to a quarter-mile ahead, starting new, smaller fires.

Winds were pushing the fire northeast, toward the threatened buildings, Haynes said. Cabins, trailers, power lines, major transmission power lines, outbuildings and historic log cabins are at risk. The fire jumped over Argyle Canyon Road, which crews hoped would serve as a firebreak.

"We were hoping it wouldn't get there, but the winds came up," Haynes said.

Humans started the Church Camp Fire on Sunday, but the specific cause is still under investigation, said Mike Erickson of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Rand Jolley lives on the Wasatch Front but has a vacation home in Argyle Canyon. As he left his cabin to return to Salt Lake City about 6 p.m. Sunday, he could see smoke a few miles to the east. On Monday he was trying to learn how close his cabin is to the Church Camp Fire but was having trouble reaching anybody with good information.

Jolley said there are perhaps 15 other cabins within a half-mile of his. Pine beetles there have destroyed trees and made them ready fuel for fire.

"You've got lots of dead pine in there and it's just been extremely dry this year," Jolley said.

One hundred firefighters were working against the fire as of Monday night.

Utah County's Dump Fire • The blaze was contained Monday night, said Jason Curry of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. It burned at least 5,507 acres. It was thought to have burned more, but new measurements were taken Monday.

The blaze was burning about 1½ miles south of Saratoga Springs.

On Friday, the blaze prompted mandatory evacuations of thousands of residents living in the Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs areas. Those evacuations were lifted Saturday, and residents were allowed to return home.

Sparked by two target shooters on Thursday afternoon, the fire burned within a half-mile or closer of some homes.

Washington County's Quail Fire • The fire was contained at noon Monday.

The fire had burned 1,708 acres and briefly prompted the evacuation of about 60 homes.

The grass fire that started at 2:50 p.m. Saturday east of Interstate 15 and Leeds destroyed two sheds. However, firefighters were able to save several homes that were threatened.

One firefighter was taken to a hospital for treatment and later released after suffering from a heat-related illness.

The Grease Fire • It had burned 16,529 acres four miles east of Delta as of Monday night. It was 90 percent contained; the cause was not known.

Tribune reporter Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this story.

Cimaron@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CimCity —

Are you an evacuated Sanpete County resident seeking information?

Homeowners are urged to go to North Sanpete Middle School or call 775-635-3781 to get information, which will be provided as it becomes available.

Officials say residents should not try to go home to check on property. —

Fire and fireworks restrictions

As the Fourth of July approaches, several cities along the Wasatch Front have issued restrictions on where fireworks may not be used.

Salt Lake City • All areas east of Foothill Drive, and east of 1300 East to 500 South, including the University of Utah campus

All areas north of South Temple to State Street and North Temple to 200 West

City Creek Canyon, East of 200 West/Wall Street to 300 West

East of 300 West north of Wall Street through Beck Street to the city limit to the north

All city parks and wildland urban interface areas

All areas west of I-215

Unified Fire Authority • Foothill areas in Herriman, Draper, West Valley City, Holladay, Cottonwood Heights, Sandy and Draper

South Jordan • All city and county parks

Within 200 feet of the natural vegetation border on the Bingham Creek open space and trial system (

Within 200 feet of the western boundary of the natural vegetation border of the Jordan River Parkway open space and trail system extending to the city's eastern border (approximately 9400 to 11800 South and 300 to 700 West)

Provo • Within city limits, except in designated fire pits in improved campgrounds and recreation areas. The city also forbids target shooting in the city limits. At least 20 wildfires this season have been sparked by target shooters.