Dozens of homes, structures consumed by massive Wood Hollow Fire

Sad owners assess what to do next while others wait to learn of their property's fate

Published: Monday, June 25 2012 10:00 a.m. MDT

Gov. Gary Herbert confirmed Monday afternoon that 25 to 30 residential structures had been destroyed by the fire, including an estimated 12 to 14 primary residences. The estimated cost of private property lost was between $5 million and $7 million, Herbert said.

The total spent fighting wildfires in Utah so far this year is close to $3 million, according to Utah Commissioner of Public Safety Lance Davenport. He said fire conditions in the state are worse than he's seen "in a long time."

As the Fairview city manager was coming back from a meeting in Heber City on Saturday, he heard on his radio that multiple fire engines had been paged out.

"As I approached I knew something was happening beyond where we lived," said David Taylor, recalling the billowing smoke coming from the far off hills. "Knowing where the wind was blowing, we could be in trouble."

A day later, heavy smoke hindered the view of the home he had helped to build 12 years ago. 

"It was a 100-foot wall of fire when it hit our place, unbelievable," Taylor said, adding that only twigs were left standing on the ground. He and his wife have assessed the damages and will try to move on, also helping others in the city to do the same.

"We will just take one day at a time, one bridge at a time, move forward," Taylor said. "We will rebound, we will make it."

The area is replete with active ranches and property owners were being kept from their animals and lands until evacuation orders would be lifted. One of the properties near the fire was a ranch once owned by country music legend Willie Nelson.

No people had been injured as of Monday afternoon, although 60 to 75 sheep were killed in the fire. Herbert said a couple of sheep herders had to be lifted out of the area by helicopter.

Herbert reiterated his message to people using the outdoors — whether they are target shooters, campers or recreationists — to use "common sense." And if the threat of burning the state wasn't enough to deter people, then maybe a fine would be.

"By golly, you start the fire, you're going to be liable to pay for the fire," he said. "This is serious business. ... We're smarter than that in Utah."

The cause of the fire remained under investigation Monday, although recent copper wire thefts in the Wood Hollow area have removed critical ground wires and a short circuit on a transmission structure may have helped to spark the fire. A number of power poles had been burned by the flames and Rocky Mountain Power officials were among those restricted from the area, leaving repairs to the coming days and weeks.

Fewer than 300 customers were without power Monday, however, and many of those homes had been mandatorily evacuated.

"With this heat, the fire is not laying down at night. So starting this evening we're going to have a night shift, so we'll be fighting the fire 24 hours a day now," said spokeswoman Dorothy Harvey.

The sheriff's office initially indicated that it might allow or escort residents back to their properties to survey them on Tuesday, although evacuation orders were still in effect due to fluctuating weather conditions.

Janet and Jay Barlow had their home consumed by fire in the Indian Ridge subdivision, as well as a storage shed, bulldozers and other heavy equipment.

But they feel like the lucky ones.

"We were very, very fortunate," Janet Barlow said. "We had moved. We're not dependent on it for a place to live."

For 20 years, their home in Indian Ridge was their primary residence. But last fall, the Barlows moved to St. George and kept their Sanpete County home as a summer residence. All of the photos and other non-replaceable items had already been moved to their home in southern Utah.

"I feel so sad for those who lost their whole house," she said, fighting back tears. "It's everything. My heart just goes out to them."

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