Neola, Utah, USA — A wildfire that has scorched about 46 square miles innortheastern Utah and killed three people has prompted the evacuation ofhundreds of people from nearby towns and forced authorities to close a nationalforest to the public.
Firefighters hike in to help fight a wildfire north of Roosevelt, Utah, Sunday, July 1, 2007. Photo: AP The fire started Friday morning north of Neola, about 100 miles east of Salt Lake City, and on Sunday morning crews had it about 5 percent contained. The cause had not been determined.
The fire began spreading into the Ashley National Forest Sunday afternoon, prompting federal authorities to close it to public use.
The small communities of Whiterocks, Farm Creek, Paradise and Tridell were evacuated Saturday. Some residents in Tridell had been allowed to return.
The FederalEmergency Management Agency said about 300 people are under a mandatoryevacuation. Another 150 homes in DryforkCanyon, about 8 miles northeast of the fire, could be threatened by Tuesday,said Derek Jensen, a FEMAspokesman.
“We are seeing extreme fire behavior and the potential for growth isstill there. We haven’t had a change in weather or change in fuel type ordryness,” said Louis Haynes, a spokesman for the national forest.
At nearby Vernal, there was little wind Sunday, the temperatures hit 95degrees and midday humidity was only 10 percent, according to the NationalWeather Service.
Edson Gardner, of Fort Duchesne, went to Farm Creek to evacuate his mother,whose home was burned to the ground.
“It came down the canyon like a herd of horses,” he said Saturday.”The sheriff told us we had five minutes to get out.”
Uintah County Sheriff Jeff Merrell said buildings had been destroyed but hedidn’t have a count.
A U.S. Forest Service command team that travels the country fighting thelargest fires joined local crews Sunday and took over direction of thefirefighting efforts.
Eleven-year-old Duane Houston escaped the fire but his father, 43-year-oldTracy Houston,and his grandfather, 63-year-old George Houston, were killed by the flamesFriday as they worked in a hay field, authorities said. The owner of the field,75-year-old Roger Roberson, died at a hospital, officials said Saturday.
The Houstons had gone to buy hay from Roberson, and were helping him moveirrigation sprayers on his field in an attempt to block the flames.
Duane said he was told to run for their truck as flames and smoke filled theair.
“I ran and couldn’t find the truck, so I kept running through trees,climbed two fences and followed the road,” he told TheSalt Lake Tribune. He was treated at a hospital and released.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s request for aid from FEMAwas granted on Sunday. A federal grant will pay 75 percent of the state’seligible firefighting costs.
In Montana,fire managers on Sunday were reducing personnel assigned to a blaze that hadburned nearly 6 square miles in the Gallatin National Forest. Evacuation ordersremained in effect Sunday for several dozen summer homes, the Madison Arm Resort,some campgrounds and a ranger station.
In California,the wildfire that destroyed at least 254 homes south of LakeTahoe was 95 percent contained late Sunday, the U.S. Forest Service said.
Crews also battled a wildfire Sunday that had blackened more than 482 acresof brush in a rugged area of SantaBarbara County near popular campsites and swimming holes.
That fire, which started Saturday evening, was 60 percent contained Sundaymorning, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Robert Rainwater said. The blaze hadclosed some campgrounds, but no residents had been ordered to leave their homes,he said. The cause of the fire was under investigation.
Fire crews north of LosAngeles had a 19-square-mile blaze 90 percent contained, state firedepartment spokesman Shawn Sternick said. Twelve houses and six otherbuildings had been destroyed since the fire broke out a week ago in steepcanyons south of the San Joaquin Valley, officials said.