August 3, 2008

Evacuations Lifted As Crews Tackle Blaze

By Lindsay Whitehurst, The Salt Lake Tribune

Aug. 3--PAYSON -- Firefighters conquered part of the Spring Lake fire Saturday, even as it more than quadrupled in size to nearly 1,000 acres.

Evacuation orders for 72 homes in Payson and Spring Lake were lifted around midnight Friday as the fire consumed all vegetation in its path, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Loyal Clark said. No structures burned. Crews concentrated on the fire near populated areas and had the blaze 30 percent contained by Saturday afternoon.

But the flames gobbled up hundreds of acres over a ridge to the southeast of the homes Saturday. Authorities closed the Mount Nebo road scenic route from the mouth of Payson Canyon to the Maple Bench Campground as they battled the blaze.

Matt Boyack said the skies were darkened by smoke, helicopters swooped overhead and flames glowed in the distance as he left his home Friday with his wife and their six children.

"It was like the apocalypse," the 37-year-old production manager said Saturday.

The family burned digital photos onto a CD and gathered important papers. His 5-year-old stepdaughter, Violet VanKomen, reached first for a stuffed zebra named Marty.

Riley Hadlock, a 30-year-old electrician, evacuated with his wife and two daughters.

"We had to grab a few things . . . a change of clothes, a box with all our important papers, videos," he said.

The fire started when a power line wore out and fell on a flat east of Spring Lake about 3:30 p.m. Friday, Clark said. Twelve homes in Spring Lake were evacuated almost immediately.

Fed by gusty winds, the fire spread quickly. It ran up nearby mountains and back down, cutting close to the Payson homes and forcing the evacuation of 60 homes. The nearby Maple Dell Boy Scout camp also was evacuated, though many in the 400-person camp had already left, Clark said.

A few hot spots continued to send up tendrils of smoke on the blackened 7,800-foot ridge of the Wasatch Mountains behind the evacuated homes Saturday, but Clark said they should be safe from a change in the wind. Two helicopters flew hanging buckets containing about 100 and 300 gallons of water over the ridge to battle the blaze on the other side.

On Friday, two helicopters and three air tankers battled the blaze, as well as about 200 firefighters from several local agencies. That force was pared down to two 20-person teams Saturday, and a crew from Nevada is expected to take over from local agencies as the effort continues.

Tiffanie Holladay and her fiance Rob Moffitt, of Spanish Fork, watched the hills burn Friday from a friend's home at the edge of the evacuation area.

"It was scary. This was the closest it has ever come," Holladay, a 30-year-old executive assistant, said. "We're thinking about moving here, but we're definitely getting fire insurance."

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