Firefighters continue to battle an uncontrolled blaze burning that had burned about 14,700 acres in southeastern Utah County on Thursday — a day that included an evacuation warning erroneously sent to more than half a million people, fire tornadoes and the temporary closure of a state highway.
Fire officials had good and bad news for about 200 people who came to North Sanpete High School for an update on the Coal Hollow Fire and another nearby blaze.
While they estimated that they could contain the Hilltop Fire — which had burned about 1,800 acres in Sanpete County — as soon as Saturday, they said the Coal Hollow Fire would be trickier.
That blaze was uncontained as of Thursday evening and will be updated from a Type II fire to a Type I fire on Sunday morning, meaning the federal government will provide more resources.
An emergency evacuation notification that was inadvertently sent to about 600,000 people in Utah County on Thursday afternoon — even though the evacuation area had not changed — overloaded the hotline and website that contained information about the blaze, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
"It’s kind of like when Hawaii got that emergency notice about an incoming ballistic missile — it was a boo-boo,” said Sgt. Spencer Cannon, a spokesman for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.
The mistake prompted several cities, including Payson, Springville, Spanish Fork and Eagle Mountain, to tell their residents to stay put.
Fire officials said at the meeting Thursday that they were “incredibly apologetic about the panic that that caused.”
Treavor Atwood and his family were told to evacuate from their Scolfield-area property, which is about 6 miles away from State Route 6.
Fire officials have warned him that the site where numerous family memories have taken place will probably be harmed by the blaze.
“That’s where we go,” the 42-year-old said, noting that his parents have owned the property for his entire life.
Atwood and his family removed their camp trailers and four-wheelers from the property Thursday morning. Though there’s a small shed that could burn if the fire came through, he said they were able to get most items of value out.
“We’ve got our fingers crossed,” he said. “Mother nature, she flexes her muscles once in a while, and she usually always wins. So we’ll just see how it ends. Everybody’s safe, and we got our stuff out, so that’s the important part.”
The fire, which lightning sparked in a rural area about 11 miles northwest of Price, has grown rapidly from 2,300 acres Wednesday, fueled by near-perfect fire conditions.
There are 219 people working on the blaze. But firefighters have found it difficult to contain any of the Coal Hollow Fire, which has fueled fire whirls — tornado-like whirlwinds of ash, fire and/or smoke — and flames that extended up to 500 feet high. That’s about 80 feet higher than the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Salt Lake City, according to a news release from state fire officials.
People living or camping in the Fish Creek, Bear Ridge and Soldier Summit areas have been evacuated, as have some in parts of Aspen Cove and Scofield. Homes south of SR-6, to the Carbon County line, and those along State Route 96 from its junction with SR-6 to Scofield have also been evacuated.
Officials had closed SR-6 temporarily from Thistle to Sheep Creek, but they urged caution in the area, noting that there’s “a lot of smoke, and it’s hard to see.”
“Our priority is to get you back in your homes as quick as you can," said one of the officials at the meeting, "but we don’t want to do it until it’s absolutely safe.”
Though the Coal Hollow Fire is mostly far away from structures, the Hilltop Fire is adjacent to cabins, residences and electricity infrastructure, fire officials said at the meeting.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who lives a few miles away from the Hilltop Fire in Fairview, posted a series of tweets to praise the efforts of firefighters and the spirit of the residents.
“The worst appears to be over,” he wrote. “I love our small community and the way we respond together in the face of danger and tragedy. There is nowhere in the world I would rather live.”