New Harmony • Bruce Beattie surveyed the wreckage of what used to be his home with sad and frustrated eyes while embracing his tearful daughter.
The Las Vegas resident said he believed it would only be a matter of time before a wildfire consumed his dream home, but the end came sooner than anyone, including himself, expected.
Beattie's New Harmony neighbors called him Wednesday night after they noticed the rapidly spreading fire creeping closer to his home.
Then his friend, a Cedar City pilot, called to report that Beattie's home, perched high on the side of a southern Utah mountain, was no more.
But Beattie stubbornly held out hope.
"Of course I didn't want to believe it," he said Friday, as he returned to try to salvage whatever he could before looters could beat him to it. "After he sent me the picture, there wasn't much hope left."
Little survived the devastating blaze.
By Friday, the same blaze that claimed Beattie's home had destroyed six others, 22 outbuildings and numerous vehicles. It also injured one firefighter, who was expected to recover. It was about 70 percent contained by noon Friday, but patches of already charred brush threatened to re-engulf the neighborhood.
Dozens of firefighters remained at the scene of the more than 1,800 acre blaze, trying to prevent winds from stirring burned embers trapped beneath scorched debris into another raging inferno. Among those were Taiga Rohrer, a fire management officer with Zion National Park, bulldozer driver Ryan Southwick, of Kanab, who works in North Kaibab National Forest, and spotter Nick Hasty of Texas, who has relocated to the region for the summer.
The three men were positioned on one flank, close to a neighborhood, in an effort to ensure no other homes became causalities of the inferno.
Rohrer said Wednesday night firefighters came face-to-face with 50- to 100-foot-tall flames and an unpredictable wind that kept pushing the fire in different directions.
"It was tough to get ahead of it," he said.
Southwick, aided by Hasty, his spotter, drove his bulldozer parallel along one of the flanks, clearing potentially flammable brush out of the way in an effort to keep the fire from getting any larger. Facing thick smoke, a pitch black night, an uncertain fiery path and firefighters on the ground fighting to stop the blaze, Hasty and other spotters helped direct the dozers' paths and ensure no firefighters were inadvertently run over.
"There's a lot of trust that's needed," Hasty said, noting that the first hours of a fire are the most dangerous for fire crews because communication is still being established and hundreds of firefighters are trying to get organized.
In all, about 200 firefighters responded to the New Harmony blaze, saving dozens of structures from annihilation.
And for many, including firefighters, there was a small glimmer of hope. Firefighters said those residents who ensured they had "defensible space" around their properties were able to help fire crews save their properties even though they had been safely evacuated hours before the fire even approached their homes.
"It's obvious [from] some of the houses in here that's what saved them," Rohrer said. In some cases flames burned mere feet from a home, before turning away.
"It's very evident there of the work [homeowners] did," he said.
"Defensible space" involves keeping grass short and plants and trees clear of structures, and planting vegetation that helps ward off fires.
Juniper trees, for instance, are one of the worst trees to plant because they burn readily. In addition, keeping leaves clear of gutters, raking leaves away from a home and placing steel mesh over attic vents can help prevent blowing embers from catching a house on fire. While not a complete guarantee that a home will weather a wildfire, crews said it gives homeowners more of a fighting chance.
A Bureau of Land Management project where crews cut back juniper in a large field following another large wildfire in the same area also helped stem the spread of the New Harmony blaze, crews said.
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