Evacuated Fairview, Birdseye residents allowed to return home

Published: Wednesday, June 27 2012 11:00 a.m. MDT

Flames of the Seeley Fire burn the trees Wednesday, June 27, 2012, about 16 miles west of Price.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Related article: 6 Utah wildfires continue to burn; Oak City residents allowed to return home

BIRDSEYE, Utah County — Residents of Birdseye breathed huge sighs of relief Wednesday after learning about the heroic efforts of firefighters who saved all of the homes in town.

"Fabulous work. My hats off to them," said Birdseye resident Connie McClellan. "They've done a wonderful job."

Birdseye was evacuated Tuesday afternoon after wind dramatically pushed the Wood Hollow Fire along the west side of Highway 89 into Utah County and in the path of Birdseye.

"In 15 minutes it just exploded," McClellan said.

By Wednesday afternoon, residents were allowed back into their homes and all of U.S. Highway 89 was reopened while helicopters continued to put out hot spots. What they found when they returned home was blackened landscape that amazingly circled barns, homes and other structures.

"It came real close. They did a great job. They worked all through the night," said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Harold Curtis. "We had all of the different structure protection agencies as well as the wildland firefighters. The fire burned right up to (Highway) 89 last night. All it would have took was one good wind gust to cross 89 and we would have been fighting a much different fire today."

If the wind had pushed the fire to the east side of the highway, Curtis said the fire was directly in the path of numerous homes.

"If it would have crossed, all the Eagle Landing homes, even with all the protection they have in place, they would have been in danger there, especially with as dry as everything is. And then we had a whole new fuel load on that side of the road. This side of the road, it burned last year, so it wasn't nearly as bad when it got to that point."

Approximately 3,000 acres burned on the Utah County side. McClellan said the fire came within a quarter-mile of her house. She heard about one home that may have suffered some damage, but she had not heard of any home that had been destroyed.

The lifting of the evacuation order in Birdseye and news that the homes had been saved was the second example of great firefighting efforts Wednesday.

Down the road, residents of Fairview, Sanpete County, were earlier allowed to return to their homes, ending a 20-hour evacuation of the entire town.

Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, fire crews with bulldozers cut a fire break around the southeast portion of the fire.

"The dozer lines they were going to dig in around the fire line has been accomplished … and they feel very confident the fire will remain under control. They also feel confident if the winds do pick up in the afternoon, that the fire line they cut in will be substantial to retain the fire," Fairview Mayor Jonathan Benson announced Wednesday.

The evacuation order remained in effect Wednesday for the fire-ravaged communities west of U.S. Highway 89 in Sanpete County, however, including Indianola and the Oaker Hills subdivision.

More than 1,200 residents were placed under a mandatory evacuation order Tuesday afternoon after the Wood Hollow Fire made dramatic runs toward the city on the outskirts of town.

The fire came within a few hundred yards of a turkey farm, within less than a mile of structures and within a little over a mile of some primary residences, Benson said. Although no main structures burned, Benson said over the next few months residents would be fixing fence lines and other items that burned.

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