US-6 , 89 reopened as firefighters make progress against Pole Creek, Bald Mountain fires

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A helicopter flies over the Pole Creek Fire near Elk Ridge, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

Two highways surrounding the lightning-caused Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires were re-opened Thursday, allowing some residents to return to their homes after they were forced to evacuate.

First, US-6 through Spanish Fork Canyon was reopened on Thursday morning. By the evening, US-89 was also re-opened, and some families displaced by the wildfires were allowed to come back home. Utah County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Spencer Cannon said the area remains under pre-evacuation status, meaning families could be forced to leave again.

Highway 6 and 89 had been closed to traffic for much of the past week because of the Pole Creek fire, which has burned 98,642 acres and is 35 percent contained. The nearby Bald Mountain fire is 17,999 acres and is 12 percent contained, according to the latest estimate from fire officials.

Residents in the Eagle Landing Development off US-89, forced from their homes by the Bald Mountain fire, were allowed to return on Wednesday, although they remain under a pre-evacuation alert.

But that's only about 20 homes out of 2,000 evacuated because of the fires. The number of evacuees still totals nearly 6,000.

Residents in Left Fork Hobble Creek Canyon alerted Thursday to open any front-access gates and move flammables away from homes — a precautionary action that will allow firefighters to protect structures if the fire advances into that area.

Officials project the Bald Mountain fire will be fully contained on Oct.10, and the Pole Creek fire will be fully contained on Oct. 1.

After high temperatures and strong winds that propelled the flames on Wednesday, the weather cooled on Thursday — but firefighters again faced high wind gusts along mountain ridges, and the relative humidity was once again low, making the battle more difficult.

Firefighting efforts were briefly complicated Tuesday evening after someone flew a drone over the south end of the fire. Crews halted all air operations at that point to avoid any collisions. Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon urged people to report to dispatch — at 801-794-3970 — if they knew who was controlling the device.

Flying a drone near an active wildfire is illegal. Penalties for doing so can include a fine up to $25,000 and possible criminal prosecution.

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