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Fairview woman, evacuated three times, now feeling safe

Published June 29, 2012 7:36 am


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Wildfires • Six blazes are still ravaging Utah, but some residents are feeling safe for the first time in quite a while.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Fairview • Those who flee wildfires are left with stories to tell.

Darlene Mortensen's story is this.

The Wood Hollow Fire made her evacuate her home here three times — twice in one day. The last time she returned home she found firetrucks in her driveway because the blaze was still so close.

Helicopters have been dipping their buckets in her pond to fight the fire. Mortensen didn't mind, but many of her 100 or so geese didn't like it.

The largest of Utah's six fires, the 46,402-acre Wood Hollow Fire in Sanpete County was just 25 percent contained on Thursday with full containment projected for Saturday. Believed sparked on June 23 by a short-circuited utility pole compromised by copper thieves, the fire has burned 56 structures — and has taken the life of an Indianola-area man, whose body was found earlier this week. Some 700 firefighters were battling the blaze.

Mortensen has lived on 100 acres on the northwest edge of Fairview since 1995.

Much of her acreage is inhabited by geese. She started by having some exotic geese, including Egyptian Geese, as pets. That attracted wild geese. She also has a license to rehabilitate birds, and game wardens bring injured geese here. Birds walk her yards and lounge on her 5-acre pond.

Pasture for cattle sits along her west side. And about a mile to the west, in sight of her front porch, are the mountains that have been burning.

Sunday, the mountain was on fire. She left in a voluntary evacuation that day, returned after a few hours, then was ordered out and allowed to return again on Sunday.

Sometime that day, Mortensen got a phone call from a dispatch center in Richfield asking if helicopters could fill their buckets in the pond. Mortensen agreed and the helicopters have been hovering in every day since, sometimes five minutes apart.

Tuesday the fire approached Fairview again and the entire town was ordered to evacuate. Mortensen wanted to go to her cabin up Fairview Canyon, but by then the Seeley Fire was burning near there.

So Mortensen turned around to see if she could drop off her three dogs at home before going to stay with a friend. That's when she found the firetrucks in her driveway.

"They told me as long as they knew I was here I could stay," Mortensen said. "So I stayed. They said my house was probably the safest in the county."

The firefighters, said if the fire got to close they would siphon water from her pond and dump water on her house, she said.

She no longer feels her home is in danger, but smoke from both the Wood Hollow and Seeley fires was still visible from her house Thursday, as the helicopters continued to take water from her pond.

"At least the geese are getting used to them," Mortensen said.

In other parts of Sanpete County, evacuations remained in place Thursday for the communities of Indian Ridge, Elk Ridge, Big Hollow and Oaker Hills.

The entire western half of Utah and a portion of southeastern Uintah County remained under a "Red Flag" extreme wildfire danger warning, and open fires and fireworks were banned statewide on public lands.

The five other active Utah fires are:

— The Clay Springs Fire, which began Wednesday afternoon four miles south of the Millard County town of Oak Cit, had reached 45,000 acres by Thursday night. Hundreds of Oak City and Fool Creek residents were evacuated, but allowed to return home late Thursday morning.

About 100 firefighters, along with water- and fire retardant-bearing helicopters and air tankers, were working to keep the flames away from scattered homes. The fire had been contained to 15 percent by 8 p.m.

About 75 structures remained at risk, but flames had claimed just one cabin and three Oak City maintenance buildings, said Interagency Fire Center spokesman John Zapell.

Two firefighters battling the fire were seriously burned Wednesday afternoon and were being treated Thursday at the Intermountain Burn Center in Salt Lake City, the Millard County Sheriff's Office confirmed. Both men's conditions had been stabilized, a dispatcher said.

— The New Harmony Fire in Washington County was ignited by a malfunctioning water pump on private land Wednesday afternoon. It initially forced evacuations of the communities of Bumblebee, New Harmony and Kanarraville. By Thursday afternoon, all evacuations except for Bumblebee had been lifted. Bumblebee residents are expected to return home by noon Friday, but spokesman Nick Howell said they would be escorted to their homes Thursday night and Friday morning to gather any belongings they may need.

Seven structures and 22 outbuildings were lost in the 1,826-acre fire, along with several vehicles, but crews from five different agencies had it 70 percent contained by Thursday afternoon. One firefighter was treated for first- and second-degree burns on Wednesday at an area hospital and then released.

Highway 144 remained closed to all but residents, Zapell said.

— The Church Camp Fire, which had topped 5,400 acres in Duchesne County, was just 10 percent contained on Thursday. A dozen structures were believed to have been lost to the flames burning 22 miles south of the city of Duchesne. Residents of homes along Argyle Road east of Highway 191 to Gardner Canyon, as well as four miles north and south of Argyle Canyon Road, were evacuated.

"We understand the property owners' concerns and certainly want to express our sympathy to those that have lost property, be assured that we are doing everything we safely can to not only protect structures but let people know their status as soon as we can," said John Kidd, incident commander.

About 320 firefighters were assigned to the fire on Thursday. The cause of the fire, which began Sunday, remained under investigation.

— The Pole Creek Fire, a 1,800-acre blaze, also in Duchesne County, forced residents of the Elk Horn Loop area, eight miles north of Neola, to leave their homes late Wednesday. The evacuations were lifted by early Thursday morning. The fire was 50 percent contained by Thursday night.

— The Seeley Fire, sparked by lightning on Tuesday, had topped 20,300 acres in Carbon County as of Thursday morning, according to spokeswoman Rosann Fillmore. The towns of Scofield, Hiawatha, Clear Creek and Wattis were under evacuation orders, and Highway 31 was being closed periodically. The fire was zero percent contained as of 6 p.m.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle —

Online • Statewide fire restrictions

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