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Nephi Canyon fire rages

Published: Saturday, July 21 2007 12:15 a.m. MDT

Looking north toward the Nebo Loop area, flames fill the sky with smoke as the Salt Creek fire burns in Nephi Canyon. The fire is zero percent contained. As of Friday evening, there were 10 fires burning across the state, almost half of which forced evacuations of homes, cabins and campgrounds.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

FOUNTAIN GREEN — The heat rippled in waves over the dry fields of cheatgrass, as huge columns of black and gray smoke churned into the sky.

Larry and Bonnie Nicol stood here on state Route 132, watching nervously as the Salt Creek fire moved dangerously close to their home.

"Everything we have is up there," Bonnie Nicol said, nodding at the wildfire. "We've got the clothes on our backs and the medicine I took in my purse. That's it. That's all we've got."

The Nicols story echoed those of other evacuees, both near the Salt Creek fire and elsewhere in the state. As of Friday evening, there were 10 fires burning across the state, almost half of which forced evacuations of homes, cabins and campgrounds.

All day Friday, evacuees gathered near a big "Road Closed" sign placed in the middle of S.R. 132, sharing stories of their escapes from the fire or any news of the inferno's progress.

The fire is zero percent contained.

"Oh my gosh!" Manavee Jeffery gasped as she watched the fire find new fuels, churning up more dark smoke and bright orange flames,

visible from miles away.

The Salt Creek fire has burned more than 15,109 acres of ponderosa pine, pinyon, juniper, sagebrush and dry grass in Nephi Canyon.

Authorities are investigating reports a vehicle's brake pads sparked as it went down S.R. 132, igniting the wildfire in dry grasses.

From there, the fire, which started Thursday, took off.

"We were told to get out of there fast," said Jeffery. "It was scary."

She described fast-moving flames that jumped the road, heading toward her trailer in the Camperworld campground up Nephi Canyon.

"We had to get our medication out, some of our clothes and our laptop," she said. "I had some genealogical stuff that I didn't want to lose."

Devastation

The fire left a haphazard pattern of destruction in its wake.

At the Camperworld campground, an office, trucks and RVs were destroyed. Nearby, other camper trailers, sheds and other structures were untouched.

Small fires continued to burn in the campground, the result of propane tanks that had caught fire, authorities said.

"I really hate seeing structures burn down," said firefighter Terry Krinko. "That's somebody's livelihood. It's everything."

Along S.R. 132, which remained closed into this morning, some areas had burned completely. Red dirt was covered by ash. In other places, a tree here and there had been torched. Bushes were burned on top; their bases green and flowering.

An entire hayfield was spared near Camperworld, even though the surrounding hills were decimated.

Firefighters needed

Fire officials have thrown everything they have at this blaze, trying to protect cabins, trailers, campgrounds and other structures in the canyon.

"The main emphasis is structure protection," said Bert Hart with the Richfield Interagency Fire Center.

More than 150 fire personnel are working this fire. Air tankers and a helicopter flew over the Holiday Oaks subdivision on Friday afternoon, making drops of water and retardant, trying desperately to protect the homes there from burning. So far, as of late Friday, they have been spared.

A fire crew from Juab County kept watch over a lone cabin as flames 60 feet high overtook a crevice in the canyon.

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