August 2, 2008

Fire Crews Save Homes: Residents Evacuated, Allowed to Return Later

By Donald W. Meyers, The Salt Lake Tribune

Aug. 2--SPRING LAKE -- Jerry Lance had an impression -- call it a hunch -- that she needed to come home early from work at Mountain View Hospital.

When she did, she found a wildfire burning next to the home of Robert Bascom, her brother. Remembering the Molly fire from six years ago, Lance leapt to action, grabbing a garden hose and spraying down the fire and keeping the house wet.

"It was so hot, and the smoke was coming down," Lance said Friday, describing the wildfire that eventually burned up 200 acres on Dry Mountain southeast of Payson. "You don't think about [being scared]. It was just adrenaline."

Even though the fire burned perilously close to about 14 houses, fire crews were able to save the structures, said Loyal Clark, spokeswoman for the Uinta-Wasatch National Forest.

People in the homes were evacuated, others who weren't home at the time were kept away. Later Friday night, after the fire moved away, residents were allowed to return to their homes.

Firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Utah County and local companies from Provo to Goshen turned out to battle the blaze, which jumped one ridge and spread as hot, dry southwesterly winds fanned the flames. Clark said the fire appeared to be human-caused.

Sgt. Spencer Cannon, Utah County sheriff's spokesman, said the first call to dispatch came in at 3:28 p.m.

The army of yellow-and-green-clad firefighters included three wildland fire teams from Salt Lake County's Unified Fire Authority. The Salt Lake crews had just been released from the Bridal Veil Falls fire.

The ground teams, which were moving along the Strawberry Highline Canal, were aided by airplanes and helicopters from the Forest Service and BLM. Clark said the aerial assault helped save the homes.

Smoke was flowing down the east side of the range and into Payson Canyon, where officials at the Maple Dell Boy Scout Camp were ordered to evacuate. About 150 Scouts were in the camp, Cannon said.

Kathy Moore, whose home was among those in the way of the fire, first learned of the danger when she tried to come home and police stopped her from going up the hill.

"They saved our houses," Moore said.

Ryan Moore, Moore's son, said the fire burned within 10 to 20 feet of his log home.

"It was way too close," he said.

Payson Fire Chief Scott Spencer credited his department's quick response to the city's annual Salmon Supper. Spencer said his firefighters were preparing to dish up the fish and baked potatoes when the call came in, and they went directly from Memorial Park to the fire.

Kim Wolsleger's house was not near the fire zone, but she said the danger won't be past once the fire is out, as she learned after the Molly fire.

"The problem is going to be when it rains. Then the mud is going to come down," she said. Without vegetation, the topsoil is prone to being washed away with rains.

Clark said there was no estimate on when the fire would be contained.

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