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Herriman fire: Evacuation ends, small miracles revealed

Published June 30, 2012 7:27 pm

Wildfires • Much of Utah remains under warning for more fires.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Herriman • A tour Saturday of the Rose Crest Fire's aftermath revealed a sad and scorched landscape, but also glimpses of small miracles.

At one home on Majestic Oaks Lane with warped and melted siding, Unified Fire Authority Capt. Lee Ascarte pointed out a tree in its backyard that was touching the house plus tall golden weeds growing next to the foundation — both potential problems for defending against wildfire.

Fire crews still managed to stop the fire three feet from the home.

"If there wasn't a fire engine here, this house would be a foundation," Ascarte said. "How our crew saved this building is nothing short of a miracle."

The Rose Crest Fire — which began Friday afternoon when a truck's hot exhaust pipe touched dry grass — destroyed four homes and several other non-residential structures plus damaged several more homes.

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It forced evacuation of some 950 homes until 6 p.m. Saturday.

During the fire scene tour, Ascarte told news reporters it is easier for firefighters to keep flames from a home if it is surrounded by 30 to 50 feet of xeriscaping or rock landscaping. Firefighters call such a buffer a "defensible space."

Ascarte showed reporters both good and bad examples of defensible space between homes and a yard.

The Cove of Herriman Springs subdivision was the greatest risk, Ascarte said, because of the dense cluster of expensive homes. Wind gusts of 20-30 mph fanned the fire Friday night, but no homes were damaged inside The Cove. The fire came right up to a vinyl fence bordering the subdivision, melting it like chocolate on a warm day.

Some homes outside of that subdivision weren't as fortunate, some were spared, but had major damage to siding that looked like an overcooked marshmallow. Other areas were completely leveled with only a large pile of coals still smoldering. Antique cars and trucks were bare with former windshields looking like taffy. Metal strands hung from the sides of what used to be rubber tires.

Elsewhere in Utah, triple-digit temperatures, unpredictable gusting and shifting winds and extreme drought-like conditions continued to make much of the state a tinder box on Saturday, but crews were guardedly optimistic they were beginning to gain the upper hand on the wildfires that had blackened more than 140,000 acres.

In Herriman, as of Saturday the Rose Crest Fire had burned an estimated 669 acres, said city spokeswoman Nicole Martin. "There was absolutely a rapid response from multiple [fire departments] from all over the Salt Lake Valley, and that helped get conditions under control as quickly as could be hoped. We are very grateful."

No serious injuries were reported.

The National Weather Service placed much of the southwest quarter of the state under a "Red Flag" wildfire danger warning this weekend. Open fires and fireworks were banned statewide on public lands ahead of the Independence Day holiday.

Gov. Gary Herbert sent a letter to religious leaders on Friday, asking for their prayers for residents and fire crews working to contain wildfires throughout the state. He asked for leaders and their congregation to pray for the elements to be moderated, the firefighters to be safe and the lives and homes of residents to be protected.

"We are in need of an extra measure of help as we battle these conflagrations," he wrote.

Elsewhere in Utah, seven other blazes were at varying levels of containment:

The Wood Hollow Fire • in Sanpete County had burned 47,295 acres and destroyed 160 structures, 52 of them homes. Though 65 percent contained as of Saturday afternoon, an army of 856 firefighters assigned to the blaze was focusing on the northern edge, which continued to be at risk of burning farther into neighboring Utah County.

"We had some minor growth overnight, but we are doing really good," Interagency Fire Center spokeswoman Dorothy Harvey said Saturday. "We have been able to release resources to be used elsewhere on other fires. We gave up three helicopters and kept four behind for now, but we're expecting to reach full containment by midnight."

The Wood Hollow Fire has been blamed for the death of an Indianola area man whose body was found in a burned residential area earlier this week. Authorities still had not released his identity as of Saturday.

As of Saturday morning, all evacuations ordered earlier in the week had been lifted.

The Clay Springs Fire • had topped 88,000 acres, a growth of nearly 20,000 acres overnight, due primarily to "burn-out" operations along Highway 82 conducted to control and contain the flames that have periodically threatened the communities of Oak City and Fool Creek, said Interagency Fire Center spokeswoman Kate Kramer.

"We've had some action," she said, "but things are looking pretty good this morning."

The fire was 15 percent contained and no evacuations were in place Saturday. Earlier, one cabin and three Oak City maintenance buildings had burned — and two Oak City volunteer firefighters who were seriously burned Wednesday were reportedly recovering at the Intermountain Burn Center in Salt Lake City.

The Seeley Fire • which topped 20,300 acres, was still burning uncontrolled but away from any homes in Emery County's Huntington Canyon and Gentry Mountain, 15 miles northwest of Huntington.

The Church Camp Fire • was 35 percent contained and had burned more than 5,900 acres about 22 miles south of Duchesne. More than 500 firefighters, along with several water- and fire-retardant-bearing helicopters, were fighting to keep the flames away from homes, though the blaze had earlier claimed 18 structures. Fire information officer Don Jakes said crews had conducted successful "back burns" along the fire's northern and southern perimeters overnight.

The New Harmony Fire • near Zion National Park became 100 percent contained Saturday evening after blackening nearly 2,000 acres. All evacuations had been lifted for the fire, which had destroyed seven homes or trailers, 22 other buildings and an unknown number of vehicles.

The Pole Creek Fire • was 60 percent contained, having charred about 2,000 acres eight miles north of Neola in Duchesne County. It was not threatening homes.

The Wolf Den Fire • was burning in a remote part of Duchesne County, about 35 miles southeast of Vernal. It had scorched 8,000 acres but had not destroyed any homes as of Saturday afternoon. Crews were monitoring the blaze and dousing hot spots that might threaten the scattered oil and natural gas sites in the area.

cimaron@sltrib.com

remims@sltrib.com

Jessica Miller contributed to this report. —

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

Fireworks restrictions were extended Friday to all unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County and county-owned parks and golf courses, which had been exempted from earlier restrictions. Fireworks already were banned in the foothills and canyons surrounding the valley above Wasatch Boulevard on the east bench and west of State Road 111 on the west bench. Interior Secretary on 4th of July fire safety:

To further address the severity of current wildland fire activity across the western states, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have directed federal land managers to take additional measures to help reduce the risks of new wildfires.

Building on existing federal and state policies designed to decrease the likelihood of accidental fires, the joint memorandum directs federal land managers to prohibit the personal use of fireworks on lands managed by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming until July 8, 2012.

These local managers will also enforce additional fire restrictions or public land closures as appropriate for the 4th of July holiday and heighten law enforcement and fire prevention patrols in critical areas to ensure that all applicable restrictions are enforced.

For more information on preventing wildfires, http://www.nifc.gov."