Thousands of Utah Residents Flee Wildfire

Thousands of Utah Residents Flee Wildfire

20 September 2010

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USA —  A wildfire raging this morning in Utah that was touched off at a National Guard firing range has scorched at least 10,000 acres, destroyed four homes and forced the evacuation of an estimated 5,000 people, officials said.

The fire began Sunday afternoon during machine gun training at Camp Williams, about 25 miles south of Salt Lake City, and quickly burned across dry brush as winds gusted to 50 mph, forcing residents in the Herriman area to flee to stay ahead of the flames.”It was kind of a perfect-storm scenario where once the fire started on the firing range at the National Guard base, the wind really kicked up,” Lt. Don Hutson of the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office told The Associated Press. “Literally, the fire was coming down into the backyards of many of these residents.”

At dawn today, Gov. Gary Herbert took an aerial tour with fire officials. He said he had expected too see up to 100 homes ruined by fire.

“It’s remarkable,” he said in comments carried by several newspapers. “In fact, it’s a miracle.”

The flames came within 30 feet of many houses, said Unified Fire Authority Chief Michael Jensen. “We were fortunate last night,” he said, according to the Deseret News.
As of this morning, 1,652 houses, home to an estimated 5,000 people, were evacuated, Unified Fire Authority Capt. Brad Taylor told AOL News. Some 10,000 acres had burned, said Utah National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Hank McIntire. The winds had died down considerably, but the fire was still burning, with no estimate on when it may be contained.

“We don’t have it contained,” Taylor said. “Once we have an aerial view, we’ll re-evaluate and see where our crews are needed most.” The fire started during live-ammunition machine gun training at the National Guard base, McIntire said. Fire crews believed they had the blaze out, but the wind picked up, and McIntire said the fire most likely restarted from a spark or ember.

“They thought they had the fire suppressed,” he said.

Fires on the range are common, McIntire said, and firefighters are always on-site during live-ammunition training. After Sunday’s fire amid dry conditions, McIntire said, the Guard would reassess its protocols.

“We will be re-evaluating them to see if there’s something we do need to change,” he told AOL News.

No residents were injured, though two firefighters suffered minor injuries: a cut lip and a scratched cornea, Taylor said.

“Our No. 1 goal is life safety,” Taylor said. “Keeping the fire away from homes and keeping the crews out of a dangerous situation.”

Crews worked throughout the night, using bulldozers to create fire lines and setting back burns. “They were able to save a whole subdivision,” Taylor said.

Fire crews today will be dropping water from Black Hawk helicopters, as they did on Sunday, Taylor said. Crews are also using a foam fire retardant.One family said they were told by police on Sunday they could stay in their house but were ordered to leave hours later.

“They said it wasn’t going to touch our house,” Sion Shields told the Deseret News on Sunday night. “The flames were five feet from my truck when I pulled out.”

Some 200 residents took shelter at a Red Cross center at Herriman High School, waiting for updates about their homes.

Watching the flames over a ridge behind her house, Melissa Kula said she packed her car and pulled away around 8 p.m., when the fire had almost reached her backyard, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

“I’m devastated, to say the least,” said Kula, who had lived there since June.

Six schools in the Jordan School District were closed today, including the high school holding evacuees and other schools in Herriman.

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