Spanish Fork • Fire breaks — manmade and natural — are helping box in two wildfires burning in Utah County, though commanders warn conditions are still bad for combating the blazes.
The Pole Creek Fire had burnt 71,873 acres and was considered 23 percent contained Monday night. The Bald Mountain Fire was measured at 14,866 acres on Monday with no containment. As of Monday afternoon, there was still no report of structures being destroyed.
The fires are considered the Nos. 1 and 2 wildfire fighting priorities, respectively, nationally. About 1,000 firefighters are on the ground and aircraft have been dropping water or retardant as the weather allows.
The Pole Creek Fire is burning along the north edge of U.S. Highway 6 and Spanish Fork Canyon. That fire’s east flank has burnt up to an area scorched earlier this summer by the Cole Hollow Fire, and it’s running out of fuel in that location, according to a public briefing fire managers gave Monday morning.
But the Pole Creek Fire’s north flank continues burning. There is a concern it will expand into terrain in Spanish Fork Canyon where it’s too treacherous to place firefighters.
As for the Bald Mountain Fire, bulldozers and hand crews have placed breaks around the blaze in spots where there weren’t already roads, canals or other barriers. Firefighters are trying to install more lines and controls around the blaze for the next two days, said Dan Dallas, the fire’s operations section chief.
While there are still spots on the interior of the Bald Mountain Fire zone that need protection, Dallas said it’s unlikely winds will be able to expand the fire beyond those lines.
The fire “basically did what it was going to do and it would take an exceptional event to drive it like it did before,” Dallas said.
Monday was the first day in about a week that was not predicted to have red flag conditions — a weather term connoting especially bad winds and other conditions for preventing or fighting wildfires. However, humidity remains low and temperatures were expected to reach the mid-80s Monday. There is no rain in the forecast for at least 10 days.
The air in Utah County remained thick with smoke on Monday.
The fires kept about 6,000 Utah County residents out of their homes on Monday morning — and the evacuees may not get to return to their houses for days, if not weeks, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office warned. Residents who have been evacuated or who are in proximity to the fires were asked Monday to go online and sign up for email and text message alerts at alerts.utahcounty.gov.
Mandatory evacuations remained in effect for Woodland Hills; Elk Ridge; the area from Thistle Junction to Nebo Creek along U.S. Highway 89; and the Covered Bridge area.
All Nebo District schools were open as usual on Monday.
U.S. Highway 6 in Spanish Fork Canyon — which was opened Sunday morning and re-closed on Sunday afternoon — was closed in both directions on Monday, and was expected to remain unpassable indefinitely.
Diamond Fork and Sheep Creek Canyons remained under evacuation orders after the fires jumped Highway 6 on Sunday. Santaquin Canyon, Payson Canyon and the right fork of Hobble Creek Canyon were all closed.
Other closures include Highway 89 in Spanish Fork Canyon from mileposts 298-312 and the Nebo Loop Road in Nephi Canyon.
Colton Belliston, 33, was ordered to evacuate his Woodland Hills home on Thursday. He didn’t have a good way to transport and care for his eight dogs — six hounds for hunting bears and mountain lions, two dogs for working cattle — so he stayed.
He used his chainsaw to cut a fire break around his home. The house sits on a point with an overlook of the surrounding area, and Belliston monitored the Pole Creek Fire from there.
“Our house is in a pretty good spot,” he said.
Belliston finally decided to leave on Monday, but not because he’s worried about the fire. He has to go to the family construction and floor covering business in Orem and won’t be allowed back into his home. He is taking the dogs to a friend’s farm where he already took his horses.
At an LDS ward house in Woodland Hills outside the Pole Creek Fire line, residents were in their cars Monday queued up to go back to their homes a few at a time to retrieve necessities. As they sat, they watched the mountainsides to the south and southwest smolder and jets drop retardant.
Andrea Archer was in a truck with her husband and father. Archer needed to retrieve asthma medication.
“We were thinking maybe we’d be evacuated overnight,” Archer explained. “We didn’t know.”
Karl Weight, 75, needed clothes. He was allowed to go to his home once Monday, forgot some of the clothes he wanted, and was allowed to go back again. Weight and his wife are staying with his daughter in Salem.
Weight admitted to being tired of not being home, but he was thankful for the efforts to fight the fire.
“I truly believe they are doing everything they can to keep us safe,” Weight said.