Summit County declares a local emergency as Parleys Canyon Fire threatens homes

The declaration allows county officials to ask for mutual aid and activate emergency disaster plans.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A helicopter returns to douse hot spots after refilling with water near Summit Park. The Parleys Canyon Fire continues to threaten at least 6,000 houses on Aug. 16, 2021.

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Thousands of Utahns may not be able to return to their homes until at least Tuesday as the Parleys Canyon Fire continues to threaten at least 6,000 houses. And Park City School District announced Monday evening that the first day of school has been pushed back due to the fire, The Park Record reported.

[Read update: Crews on ‘high level of alert’ as they combat high winds in Parleys Canyon Fire on Tuesday]

Late Monday, Summit County Manager Thomas C. Fisher declared a local emergency, saying the fire burned uncontrolled on Sunday and was still threatening residents and homes. The declaration allows county officials to request and obtain mutual aid and commence its emergency disaster plans.

After “more accurate” infrared mapping on Sunday night, the estimated size of the fire was 539 acres as of Monday morning, according to Utah Wildfire Info spokesman Nick Howell. It stayed that size throughout the day, and by Monday evening the fire was 21% contained.

[Read more: Is Utah’s mild fire season turning ugly? Explosive Parleys Canyon Fire highlights fire risks.]

Parleys Canyon Fire

Early estimates had put the fire at 1,500 acres, then 619 acres Sunday evening.

The heavy smoke from fires on the West Coast that is polluting the air is actually helping firefighters in Parleys Canyon, “acting somewhat like a cloud cover to lower temperatures slightly,” according to Utah Wildfire Info. There’s moderate to heavy rain in the National Weather Service’s forecast for Tuesday through Thursday, which could help firefighters contain the fire — but runoff is possible in burned areas.

Approximately 200 firefighters, as well as multiple aircraft, fought the fire and made “really good progress” on Sunday, Howell said. Helicopters, airtankers and water scoopers dropped water and retardant on particularly active portions of the fire to support the crews constructing a fireline on the ground.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Two planes and helicopter work on the fire in Parleys Canyon, on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021.

Residents of the Summit Park and Timberline subdivisions will remain under evacuation orders until Thursday night at 8 p.m., with Upper Pinebrook remaining evacuated until Wednesday at 8 p.m. Lower Pinebrook residents are allowed to return to their homes, according to the Summit County Sheriff’s office. Fire officials will “continue to evaluate and adjust this timing” based on weather and fire behavior.

Lambs Canyon and Millcreek Canyon were also evacuated. Some residents were allowed to retrieve belongings from their homes on Sunday but could stay only for brief periods.

“We’re trying to get people back into their homes as quickly as possible,” Howell said.

Park City School District, which was set to start school Thursday, pushed back that start date to Aug. 23, according to their website. The Park Record reported that evacuations forced this delay.

In a statement shared with The Park Record, Superintendent Jill Gildea said, “Thank you to all for your support, encouragement, and care of one another as we navigate challenges associated with this longer than anticipated evacuation from our neighborhood homes.”

Jordanelle State Park remained closed on Monday, as firefighters used water from the reservoir to fight the fire.

The cause of the blaze remained under investigation Monday night, but it is believed to have been sparked by a car dragging a faulty catalytic converter, throwing sparks that ignited dry grass along the side of I-80.

Authorities were searching for the car and its driver.

— Salt Lake Tribune reporter Paighten Harkins contributed to this report.