Massive Utah fire kills three

Massive Utahfire kills three

2 July 2007

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Utah, USA — Three men who were working in a hayfield died after being overcome by a wildfire burning in eastern Utah.

The three men and the son of one of the victims were working in the fieldFriday afternoon when they were caught in the fire after it suddenly changeddirection. The 11-year-old boy escaped, but his father and grandfather died inthe field.

A 75-year-old man was flown to Salt Lake City, where he died overnight,Uintah County Sheriff Jeff Merrell said Saturday.

“A fire wall came over that hill,” Merrell told the Deseret Morning News.“The officers who were here said it just started sucking up all the air.”

The boy was treated and released from Uintah Basin Medical Center inRoosevelt, about 15 miles southeast of Whiterocks.

Trevor Quick, a friend of the family, said the men apparently told the boy torun and he was able to escape.

Merrell identified two of the victims as 63-year-old George Houston and hisson, 43-year-old Tracy Houston, 43. Roger Roberson, 75, died later at UniversityHospital in Salt Lake City, spokesman Chris Nelson said.

The fire started north of Neola, about 100 miles east of Salt Lake City, onFriday morning and burned more than 14 square miles in less than a day. BySaturday afternoon, about 23 square miles, including part of Ashley NationalForest in the northeastern corner of the state, had been consumed.

Gov. Jon Huntsman requested aid from the Federal Emergency ManagementAssociation after being flown over fire area.

“He said this is a very frightening scene. It’s a serious fire and we needto do everything we can to help these people,” said Lisa Roskelley, thegovernor’s spokeswoman. “It really is going to be a long-term fire as well.”

Heavy smoke blanketed the horizon north of Neola, just west of the Duchesneand Uintah county line.

Extremely dry conditions and strong wind fueled the fire, which had reachedthe southern edge of Ashley National Forest and was consuming brush, juniper andpine. Wind gusts Saturday were expected to reach up to 25 mph, fanning theflames even more.

“We’re seeing some short runs in cheatgrass and pretty aggressive firebehavior,” said Louis Haynes, a spokesman for the Uintah Basin Interagency FireCenter.

The cause was still unknown Saturday as crews tried to contain the fire.

A specialized team of about 60 firefighters had been called in and wasexpected to take over fighting the blaze first thing Sunday morning.

Conditions for wildfires to spread rapidly are high throughout the statebecause of a dry spring and very dry early summer. Once a fire starts, itspreads very quickly across the parched mountain valleys.

The most recent fatality in a Utah wildfire was last summer, when a Bureau ofLand Management firefighter was trapped as shifting winds fueled flames burningin the Fishlake National Forest.

BLM officials couldn’t immediately say when a civilian last died in awildfire in Utah.


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