Firefighters still investigating the Moab blaze that destroyed 8 homes, but say it was ‘human caused’

Moab • They grabbed what was most important to them.

The dogs. The guns. Family photos. The laptop.

Then, Tina Saunders and her boyfriend, Steve Clark, drove away. Their home was on fire.

“Those houses just started going like dominoes,” Clark, 50, said Wednesday. “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!”

Saunders and Clark were among the residents assessing what they had lost — or saved — in the Cinema Court Fire. The blaze ignited along the Pack Creek in Moab sometime between 5:30 and 6 Tuesday evening. It destroyed eight homes, plus a few outbuildings, city officials said.

Firefighters and residents continued mopping up the fire Wednesday — extinguishing embers in smoldering trees and stumps — as the smell of smoke permeated the resort town.

Arson investigators, who were seen examining the area near Cinema Court Apartments, across the creek from the homes that burned, determined the blaze was “human-caused” but had not narrowed down its specific origin Wednesday afternoon.

A motel gave Saunders and Clark a free room Tuesday night.

“It’s kind of a weird feeling to wake up in the morning and realize you can’t comb your hair,” Saunders said Wednesday afternoon outside the remnants of the home she and Clark shared. “You can’t brush your teeth. You can’t take your medication.

“You can’t feed your dogs. You don’t even have a bowl to put water in and give them.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Firefighters from Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands work on hot spots from yesterdays fire in Moab. Wednesday, June 13, 2018.

Rick Carrigan’s home at 1111 Wasatch Ave,, which also housed his appliance-repair business, went up in flames.

“We pretty much lost everything,” he said.

Carrigan looked over the creek banks behind his house about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and saw fire.

“I looked out the garage and thought, ‘Who is this stupid a--hole burning?’” he said.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The remnants of a home destroyed by Tuesday's fire in Moab, Wednesday, June 13, 2018.

Carrigan turned on a garden hose to spray down the thigh-high cheatgrass in a vacant lot next door. But 20 minutes after he saw the flames, sheriff’s deputies ordered him and his wife, Becky, to evacuate. They drove away with only the clothes they were wearing. Firefighters managed to retrieve Carrigan’s computer before it burned. The couple can’t find their two cats.

While firefighters cut down burned trees and dumped water and dirt on still-smoking logs Wednesday, homeowners along Pack Creek used garden hoses to douse burnt grasses when they would smolder again.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lisa DeRees talks about how the community came together to help with the fire, as she sprays hotspots in the backyard of a home next to Pack Creek in Moab, Wednesday, June 13, 2018.

Lisa DeRees said she returned home at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and realized how hot and dry it was outside. She turned on her sprinklers.

Five minutes later, she said, she heard the sirens of firetrucks. The creek banks had ignited. DeRees’ home was on the west end of what became the burn area. The east end was about a quarter-mile away.

Firefighters focused on the east end, where the now-destroyed homes were.

“This whole creek bed was filled with volunteers getting water out of the creek with buckets,” DeRees said.

As residents formed a bucket brigade to save one another’s homes, DeRees’ boyfriend, Bego Gerhart, turned on a garden hose and used it keep flames away from DeRees’ house and her neighbors’ homes.

“The citizens saved this subdivision,” Gerhart said.

The former owner of one of the trailers destroyed by the flames, 69-year-old Jon Kovash, said residents always knew there was a chance of fire along the creek bed. “There’s any number of places in town this could have happened,” he said.

On Wednesday, Carrigan was at the Moab Valley Fire Protection District headquarters, seeking assistance from the Red Cross and other relief agencies. He also was on the phone with his insurance company, trying to learn how much he will get for his losses.

“It’s probably not going to be enough,” he said.

A stack of blank witness forms with Grand County Sheriff’s Office letterhead sat on a picnic table outside the fire station. Who or what started the Cinema Court Fire was a topic of discussion among Moab residents.

Meanwhile, Moab residents pitched in. They stopped by the fire station to drop off donations of food, water and clothing. Businesses offered free meals to the displaced. The Gonzo Inn, where Clark and Saunders stayed Tuesday night, and other motels offered them free or discounted lodging.

Tubs of ice and water bottles were left along the scarred area so firefighters could stay hydrated.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Steve Clark looks for something he may be able to salvage from the remnants of his home, after it burned to the ground in yesterdays fire in Moab, Wednesday, June 13, 2018.

Clark said he wasn’t mad at anyone or anything for the fire. Lots of people lose homes every day, he said. And Clark said he is well insured — so well that he may rebuild just to sell and get away from Moab’s increasing tourist traffic.

So he looked around the ashes and smiled as he shared memories. His 1993 Hummer that he drove up and down Moab’s Jeep trails was destroyed.

His picnic table was upright but was too charred to be useful anymore.

“You know how many people have partied around that picnic table?” he said.

His business added fuel to the fire. Literally. Clark bundled firewood and sold it to campers. He says 600 bundles were sitting underneath his large carport.

Clark tried to stay in good cheer as he surveyed the destruction. When two workers from Rocky Mountain Power walked by, Clark yelled, “So, do I need to call and cancel service?”

Corrections at 8:28 a.m. on June 14, 2018: An earlier version of this story incorrectly called Steve Clark by the name Tim Clark.