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Sanpete, Carbon and Duchesne burning as 3 new fires erupt

Published June 28, 2012 12:26 pm


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Body found • Search of Wood Hollow Fire evacuation area turns up body.
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Mt. Pleasant • Late Wednesday afternoon, as crews continued to battle fires in Sanpete, Carbon and Duchesne counties, at least three new blazes erupted across the state.

In Washington County, a human-caused wildfire that started in New Harmony just before 2 p.m. had burned one structure, damaged one vehicle and was threatening other structures, according to New Harmony Fire Information Officer Nick Howell.

The fire had burned about 2,000 acres. Five different fire departments, with the help of air support, were fighting the wind-driven blaze, said Sgt. Jody Edwards. The exact cause of the fire was under investigation.

Evacuations are in effect for residents in the immediate fire threat area including, Bumblebee and portions of New Harmony close to Interstate 15.  Residents of Kanarraville have been put on alert to evacuate if needed.  The Reverse 911 system has been activated for homeowners who are threatened by the fire.

KUTV reported that the New Harmony Fire fire has jumped Interstate 15. Kanarraville and homes to the west of the town near the freeway are on standby for evacuation.

Evacuees are being sent to the Cedar City Stake Center. Animals are being taken to the Diamond Z. Rodeo Arena, west of Cedar City.

The blaze caused closure of northbound and southbound Interstate 15 milepost 51 to milepost 42. Traffic was being diverted to Highway 91 in Kanarraville.

The fire also has forced the closure of the Kolob section of Zion National Park. The Kolob Scenic Drive and visitor center have been closed, and personnel and visitors were being evacuated, a park news release stated.

The Clay Springs Fire has burned more than 12,000 acres and is "bumping" the east side of Oak City in Millard County. No traffic is being allowed into the city, fire officials reported. It is zero percent contained.

Residents were ordered to evacuate to Delta about two hours after the fire started at 2:15 p.m.

Jill Ivie, of the Richfield Interagency Fire Center, said the flames moved fast. The local district ranger has called for a Type 2 team to the fire. No cause has been determined, Ivie said.

Crews are already on scene and more assistance is on the way. Roads into the town have been closed, Millard County dispatchers said. Closures include State Road 125 from mile post zero to the junction of State Road 50 into the town.

In Duchesne County, where crews have been battling the 5,000-acre Church Camp Fire since Monday, a new blaze — the Pole Creek Fire — burned 250 acres Wednesday and forced evacuations in the Elk Horn Loop area, about eight miles north of Neola.

The Pole Creek Fire was caused by fireworks, fire officials reported.

Meanwhile, the Church Camp Fire had destroyed up to 12 structures and was endangering an estimated 80 more in Duchesne County, 22 miles south the town of Duchesne. About 150 firefighters were regrouping Wednesday, the day after the fire leaped over Argyle Canyon Road. The effort was joined by a fleet of helicopters and air tankers as a Type 2 Incident Management Team took over directing the battle.

At noon Wednesday in Sanpete County, a Tuesday evacuation of Fairview was lifted.

"Our citizens are free to go back to their homes," Fairview Mayor Jonathan Benson said, noting that at one point flames from the Wood Hollow Fire had burned within a mile of homes in his community.

Benson said he was "confident" that the fire will remain under control and that even if winds pick up in the afternoon, as they have been doing, the "fire lines will contain it."

Meanwhile, new mandatory evacuations were ordered in connection with the Seeley Fire, which started Tuesday and was threatening the Carbon County towns of Wattis, Hiawatha, Clear Creek and Scofield. No homes had been destroyed. The Scofield Scout Camp and Scofield campgrounds also were being evacuated.

The Seeley Fire has burned 9,000 acres and was zero percent contained.

Sanpete County's Wood Hollow blaze, the largest of Utah's wildfires, has burned more than 46,000 acres, at least 14 homes and 50 other structures — and also has become a killer.

A search-and-rescue team sent out to assess property damage by the fire, which has forced evacuation of 1,100 residents of central Utah's Sanpete County, on Tuesday afternoon reportedly found human remains of a male victim amid the remote, charred and still smoking ruins of high desert brush, sage, juniper and pinyon near the community of Indianola.

Sanpete County sheriff's Deputy Eric Zeeman said Wednesday that the body, which has been tentatively identified, has been turned over to the State Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy to determine the cause of death and to confirm identity; the victim's family has been notified of the possibility. Zeeman would not detail exactly where the body was found.

Fairview resident Susan Fullmer said Wednesday that she was "very anxious [Tuesday] when I got the news that they were evacuating." But as she was leaving, firefighters arrived and reassured her everything would be OK, that they would watch her house.

She said she felt a big sense of relief.

"They were reassuring," said Fullmer, who happens to own "a straw-bale home," in which bales of straw are used as insulation, with an exterior of mortar and stone. Because of the unusual construction, insurance rates for such homes are high and Fullmer has none.

Reacting to the news that the evacuation order was lifted, she said: "I'll be happy to go home and get a shower." She and her husband and their two sons had been staying with friends in Mount Pleasant.

Another Fairview woman, Darlene Mortensen, has been letting fire crews use the five-acre, 30-foot-deep pond on her "Lazy Ranch" to dip water.

When authorities contacted her Sunday and asked to use her pond, she said, "Of course."

"How can I say, No, when animals and lives are in jeopardy?" Mortensen said Wednesday.

At the height of the fire fighting efforts, Mortensen said helicopters were coming every five minutes. "There would be one dipping and two or three in the air waiting to dip water," she said.

In Sanpete County, the Wood Hollow Fire — believed at least partially ignited by the short-circuit of a Rocky Mountain Power utility pole compromised by the theft of copper wiring — was still just 20 percent contained and had been newly GPS-mapped at 46,190 acres. About 700 firefighters battled the flames, supported in the air by water-bearing helicopters and air tankers dropping amber ribbons of fire retardant along hot spots on the blaze's southeast and northeast edges.

On Wednesday afternoon, firefighters and aircraft concentrated on pushing flames away from the communities of Indian Ridge, Elk Ridge, Big Hollow, Fairview, Oaker Hills and, in neighboring Utah County, the town of Birdseye, all of which had been under evacuation orders since late Tuesday. Hundreds of homes were believed in the path of the fire, though exactly how many had been lost was unknown.

Fire danger Wednesday remained high, with a "Red Flag" warning in place for roughly the southwestern quarter of the state, stretching from Nephi west to the Nevada border, and south to Washington County.

— Reporters Roxana Orellana and Jessica Miller contributed to this story.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

remims@sltrib.com

Online • Statewide fire restrictions

O To learn what fireworks restrictions are in place where you live see the state fire marshal's website at http://t.co/TZcMTTyt