Grateful residents of Saratoga Springs return home as fire continues to burn

Published: Saturday, June 23 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Sarah Peterson said the first thing she was going to do when she got home was, "Let our dogs out and take care of anything that smells like smoke."

"I think there's just a big sigh of relief," she said about returning home.

Another woman said she would be cautious over the next few days because of the smoke, but had faith in city leaders that they "know what they're talking about" when they said residents could return.

Curry said even under a best case scenario, he predicted crews would still be working to extinguish the fire for the next four to five days.

One of the biggest remaining concerns were communications towers on top of Lake Mountain. The towers play critical roles for agencies such as the Salt Lake City International Airport and local law enforcement agencies for communication, he said. Those structures were definitely not out of the woods, Curry said.

The Dump Fire grew from 4,100 acres Friday night to 6,023 acres Saturday afternoon.

"We made good progress last night," U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kim Osborn said Saturday. "Crews were up all night."

Strong winds had pushed the unpredictable fire to the west overnight — something officials weren't expecting.

Steven Aboagye was one of the last to leave his Saratoga Springs subdivision. He watched Friday as the fire became so large that it burned several directions at once, creating havoc for firefighters.

"It was so intense," he said of the heat from the fire. "It was very close. I was worried about losing homes. We're extremely grateful we didn't lose anything."

When asked about the lingering smell of smoke for the next few days, Aboagye said, "I think we'll take that," as opposed to the alternative of having his house burn.

The fire remained 30 percent contained, but new estimates were expected to be released either late Saturday or early Sunday. While officials had said 1,500 homes had been evacuated, the officials number was downgraded Saturday to less than 600, including about 400 in Saratoga Springs and 200 in Eagle Mountain.

Most evacuated residents spent Friday night with friends and family. Only 13 people slept overnight at the shelter at Westlake High School, according to the Red Cross. But Saturday morning, many residents returned the shelter, hoping to learn the latest information.

"Yesterday there was a whole bunch of smoke and I could see why they'd kick you out. But today the smoke is gone. I don't know why they're holding us out. But I'm sure they're doing it for safety," Dennis Peterson said Saturday morning. Peterson's home was one of the first evacuated Friday morning. He and his wife spent the night with family members in Highland.

Officials pounded on the Petersons' door Friday and told them there was a mandatory evacuation. They grabbed their 72-hour kits, a few clothes and personal items and were gone in 15 minutes.

"(The fire) was pretty close, it was very smoky when we left. So we knew we needed to get out," Nancy Peterson said. "We're good (today). We're going to be alright.

"We can see our house area from where we're at, and everything looks good."

Inside the high school, the Red Cross also set up a fire information area for residents, including maps to show them the area that was evacuated, where the fire was burning and how much of the fire was contained.

"We're very anxious to get back (home)," said Kevin Sater, who spent the night in a hotel in Provo. Police came to his home about 10:30 a.m. Friday and told him and his wife they had to leave.

"We packed really fast.The conditions were just changing really fast. I mean, the neighborhood just filled with smoke and ash within 30 minutes, so we packed really fast and got out," he said.

Kami Wendel said she was ordered to evacuate about 11 a.m. Friday.

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