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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) While stopped at a traffic light, Faith Ching looks back at her cargo of four dogs, one pot-bellied pig and a turkey that she is driving back to her property in Herriman, Sunday, July 1, 2012. Officials expected the area to be declared 100 percent out by Sunday night after hot spots were doused.
Rose Crest Fire: Herriman residents’ despair turns to relief

Most homes and animal sanctuary are spared as residents express gratitude for fire crews.

First Published Jul 01 2012 12:51 pm • Last Updated Jul 03 2012 09:34 am

Herriman • Faith Ching loaded up her truck with as many dogs and cats as she could and pulled away from her animal sanctuary, her heart sick with the belief all would be lost in the fire raging down the hillside toward her Herriman home.

"All I could say to the ones we left behind was that I was sorry," she said. "I knew for sure they were going to be burned alive."

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Luckily Ching’s despair turned into relief Sunday as she and other residents forced to evacuate by the Rose Crest Fire were allowed to return.

Most of the homes and Ching’s five-acre animal sanctuary were saved.

Four homes were destroyed by the fire along with some other non-residential buildings, but most residents returned Sunday to find their homes were intact, even though charred evidence showed just how close they came to losing everything.

"The firefighters did a remarkable job," said Diane Mitchell as she looked out from her home that was surrounded by a scorched landscape three-quarters of the way around the house. "You can re-seed grass, but you can’t re-seed homes and memories."

The Rose Crest Fire, which started Friday afternoon when a truck’s hot exhaust pipe ignited dry grass, forced the evacuation of an estimated 950 homes and burned 669 acres. It was about 60 percent contained as of Sunday night.

Residents believe if it weren’t for the quick response of emergency personnel or the turning of the winds, more would have been lost. Mitchell said the fire was moving so fast over the hillside above her home she only had time to round up her husband and dogs to leave.

"I thought everything was going to be gone," she said.

While the house does have some smoke damage and the yard must be landscaped, the structure was safe.

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"We are lucky," said Diane’s son, Chris. "It was an amazing effort by everyone. I was in the military so I respect anyone that can hold their line, and they did just that. Those guys held their line."

As he spoke, a line of firefighters patrolled through his backyard making sure the fire was out.

The home across the street wasn’t so lucky as it was completely leveled by the fire.

A few blocks away, Shawn Meik stood gazing at the destruction that stopped just a few feet from his horse corral.

During Friday’s blaze, a firefighter stood ready to let his horse free if necessary, but such action wasn’t needed.

Unfortunately Meik’s worries aren’t over. He fears his cabin has been lost in the Church Camp Fire near Duchesne, one of the many fires the state has endured as dry, windy conditions leave the state susceptible to wildfires.

"Two fires in over a week, that is too much," Meik said.

It is too much for Ching as well, who along with numerous volunteers spent most of Sunday moving her animals home after evacuating them to the Equestrian Park and Events Center in South Jordan and from other locations.

Her five-acre sanctuary is home to more than 30 goats, 12 sheep, 10 emus, 17 horses, more than 100 birds, 23 pigs and a menagerie of dogs and cats.

Evacuating them and then loading them up to bring them home was no small task.

On Friday, volunteers stood ready to evacuate animals as the firefighters kept an eye on the flames, allowing some rescuers in as the winds swept away then closing off the area as the flames drew closer.

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