Crews battle Alpine wildfire; homes still evacuated
Alpine • Residents evacuated from about 500 Alpine homes by a nearly 2,900-acre wildfire were still waiting Wednesday morning for clearance to return home.
The American Red Cross reported 14 people stayed overnight at an evacuation center set up at Timberline Middle School. The center remained open Wednesday.
The wildfire, which started about 2 p.m. Tuesday by a man working with a track hoe near the Alpine rodeo grounds in Lambert Park, had burned 2,886 acres. Fire authorities revised their estimate of affected acreage down from the 5,000 acres they reported late Tuesday after gaining access to better maps.
Craig Skidmore, a resident of The Alpine Cove subdivision in Box Elder Canyon, said he went home Tuesday afternoon after his wife called to say she could see a fire approaching. The couple were casually getting some things together, when the barn next door went up in flames that he said were 100 feet high.
"That gave us an [indication] of how close it was," Skidmore said. The couple left in a hurry.
Cannon said the fire grew quickly from about 100 feet to reach the top of a ridge in Box Elder Canyon in an hour. He added that by sweeping campgrounds and using aircraft to check trails, the sheriff's office had accounted for all hikers and campers in the area, and none was in danger.
A barn is the only casualty of the blaze so far, although two houses sustained minor damage, Clark said.
A search-and-rescue team escorted a group of 32 people from Cedar Hills off a ridge adjacent to where the fire was burning. Cannon said the group was on the Lone Peak trial in the vicinity of what are known as the Hamagogs.
He said the hikers were never in danger and were escorted out as a precaution. "We just wanted to make sure they were out of the area if it became a risk to them."
Pleasant Grove resident Justin Long said he drove to Alpine to check on his parents' home because they are on vacation after seeing what he called "ominous" smoke billowing into the air.
Standing on a hill looking at the home in the distance, Long remarked on how quickly the fire grew. He said it was halfway up the mountain when he arrived, but an hour later had reached the high ridges.
Within 30 minutes of the fire's outbreak, Gov. Gary Herbert ordered the Utah National Guard to assist. The Utah Army Guard's 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation a unit that returned last month from a year's deployment in Afghanistan responded with a Blackhawk helicopter. A second chopper, along with three fire engines, came from the U.S. Forest Service, according to Clark. Two planes were dropping retardant.
The helicopters will make repeated trips to nearby water sources to dip their 600-gallon buckets and drop the water on the flames, said Lt. Col. Hank McIntire.
Firefighters from Provo, Pleasant Grove, Lone Peak, Lehi and American Fork were assisting with structure protection, and Forest Service ground teams were on their way to the area, Clark said.
Brad Heitmann, of Lehi, saw at least one large structure in flames at the mountaintop. Heitmann was leaving a dentist appointment at Thanksgiving Point when he saw a massive plume of smoke on the mountain across from him. He headed east to see what it was and came upon a line of cars with people watching the blaze. He saw a structure go up in flames, the smoke turning blackish-gray as the building burned.
"You could see the flames leaping up the mountain, huge flames the size of trees or bigger, leaping up the mountain," Heitmann told The Tribune.
Despite some initial confusion, evacuees were asked to gather at the Timberline Middle School, 500 W. Canyon Crest Road, in Alpine, where the Red Cross was setting up services. Earlier, about 100 people had gathered at an LDS Church wardhouse, before officials decided there were not enough bathrooms.
Among those at the church were Jane Knadler, who said she grabbed her computer and a safe, but was not able to get the family cat.
Nate Meese said he and his family had been talking about the possibility of a wildfire and had already loaded up the car.
Kimberly Bryant, an Alpine councilwoman who oversees the city's police and fire departments, was beginning to load personal items into a trailer "just in case" as the fire moved north and reached the top of Box Elder Peak. She said the flames were forming a "vortex" and curling back.
"The flames are huge. It's already to the top," she said at about 4:30 p.m. "It's going to come back this way."
Bryant said she had not yet heard what caused the fire. Last week, the council outlawed fireworks. On Tuesday, Highland requested that its residents refrain from using fireworks.
"It is just devastating," Bryant said. About a decade ago, a human-caused fire burned down the mountain slope behind her house.
Jay Nielson, who lives in Utah County, tweeted that there were "huge smoke plumes and lots of wind. Making for massive flames."
Kylee Gordon, 20, lives in Cedar Hills, the community south of Alpine. She saw smoke coming from the mountainside around 2:30 p.m. and went to see what it was.
Since then, she said, "It has gotten huge, creeping up the mountains and getting closer to homes. It's night and day. It was really getting close to several houses."
Draper City tweeted at about 4:30 p.m. that the flames were moving away from Draper in a northeast direction, and no evacuations were ordered or homes threatened. Shortly after 5 p.m., State Road 92 into American Fork Canyon was closed due to the fire.
A hotline has been established for information about the Quail Fire • 801-851-8778
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