12 homes destroyed in fast-moving Rockport wildfire

Fire officials warn that the danger is far from over

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 13 2013 10:35 a.m. MDT

Utah Governor Gary Herbert speaks to media as crews continue to fight a fire burning near the town of Wanship and Rockport Reservoir Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

ROCKPORT, Summit County — Twelve homes, many of them primary residences, were destroyed by a fast moving wildfire Tuesday near Rockport State Park that prompted evacuations of more than 300 homes.

While Gov. Gary Herbert said he and the firefighters feel horrible for those who lost property, he noted that no lives were lost, no one was injured, and the situation could have been much worse.

"We can confirm now there are 12 residences that have been burned, another approximately 15 other structures, outbuildings, some vehicles, and a couple of boats," Herbert said. "It's been a fast moving fire, but I want to emphasize how fast the response has been."

At one point on Tuesday, the flames were moving 50 to 80 feet per minute, said Steve Rutter, fire management officer of Utah's northeastern area. Despite Tuesday's successes, he said firefighters still have their work cut out for them Wednesday.

"We still have a large threat to a number of homes we can't ignore," he said late Tuesday. "There are 250 homes that are still actively, imminently threatened. … It's not over tonight, it's not going to be over tomorrow."

Because of that, Rutter said firefighters would be "running 24-7 until we have 100 percent containment and we've completed our mop up."

By Tuesday night, firefighters estimated that 4,000 acres had burned from the lightning-caused blaze dubbed the Rockport 5 Fire. The fire was about 5 percent contained.

"We have homes that are completely surrounded by black — vegetation completely gone, but we were able to preserve the homes. It looks really ugly now. There's a big black spot. But there are a lot of people who will be able to go home when we open it back up," he said.

The evacuation order was expected to remain in place until at least Wednesday afternoon, at which time officials said they will reassess the situation. Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said that while he couldn't force any adults out of their homes, his deputies are requiring any families with children to leave.

About 175 firefighters from several local jurisdictions, including as far away as Herriman, joined forces to battle the dangerous wildfire, in addition to three helicopters, three air tankers and two fire retardant drops from a DC-10. Herbert said the number of firefighters on the ground would be increased to 250 by Wednesday morning and he authorized the use of the Utah National Guard's Blackhawk helicopters if needed.

"We've been painting the mountain as red as we can to try and keep the fire from getting into more homes and trying to protect those homes and property we have up there," said Utah State Forester Dick Buhler.

All of the homes destroyed were in the Rockport Estates area. By Tuesday night, the fire had pushed west and was cutting through the Promontory community.

Sonia Hellander said her friend's house, a primary residence, was one of the big homes that was lost.

"I think that was the big explosion everybody heard was his house," she said.

When the wildfire started, a neighbor helped a boy, about 13 or 14 years old, and his dog get out of that house to safety.

"The little boy was the only one home, with the dog. But we got the boy and the dog out safe," she said.

But Jon Hellander, Sonia's husband, also tried to get to the teen by riding an ATV to his house. The four-wheeler, however, ran out of gas near the residence. Hellander not only walked three miles himself to safety over the rolling hillside, but he grabbed two horses that were still in their stables on a nearby property and walked them out as well.

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