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Devastating fire engulfs 14th home, but firefighters save 22 in same area

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 14 2013 10:05 a.m. MDT

Damage shows from The Rockport 5 Fire in Rockport, Summit County, flares up Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 14, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

ROCKPORT, Summit County — Heavy afternoon winds stirred the devastating Rockport 5 Fire from a temporary lull Wednesday, engulfing its 14th home.

But fire officials said if not for the fast work of firefighters Wednesday, many more houses could have been lost.

"We did lose the one structure today, but at the same time they saved 22 other structures in the same area," said Summit County District Fire Warden Bryce Boyer.

If the weather doesn't cause significant problems Thursday, Boyer hopes crews will be able to contain 50 percent of the unpredictable wildfire.

At times, the wind fueled flames that were 60 feet to 80 feet high at the front of the fire, according to state officials. Huge plumes of smoke could again be seen for miles rising above the mountains where Wednesday morning there had been nothing.

The wind-driven fire moved about 100 feet per minute at times on Wednesday.

Because of the fast moving flames and heavy smoke, the evacuation order for the approximately 300 homes in the Rockport Estates, Bridge Hollow and Promontory neighborhoods remained in effect for the second night and will stay in place at least until 6 p.m. Thursday.

Winds that had pushed the fire up the mountain west of state Route 32 adjacent to Rockport State Park on Tuesday shifted direction Wednesday afternoon and pushed the fire back down the mountain.

The Rockport 5 Fire had burned an estimated 2,000 acres and was about 25 percent contained as of Wednesday evening. Those strong winds kicked up between 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., causing the 14th home to burn. Twelve homes burned Tuesday and a 13th was burned overnight.

All of the burned homes were in the Rockport Estates community.

"Most of the the homes that were lost did not have the defensible space. There was oak brush right up to them, tall sage grass right along the exterior of them. The homes that we are seeing that are saved and that have a better chance of saving are the ones that have done fuel work," Boyer said.

Those who may have thought their homes survived the fire Tuesday night were still in danger of having their homes burn down Wednesday.

"If they're within the perimeter of the fire, those homes are still in jeopardy," said Mike Eriksson, northeast area manager of the state Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

The Rockport 5 Fire on Wednesday turned into a series of flare ups and lulls.

The winds first fanned hot spots about 1 p.m. at Rockport Estates. Two helicopters dumping water on another part of the fire were able to shift their focus and put out the flames before they reached any other homes in the blackened area.

"All that (ground) that's up there that's now black with the edges that are green, are getting hot enough that these flare-ups are coming up again. That flare-up we saw a few minutes ago was probably about 15-foot flame lengths in the oak brush, moving right toward some structures," State Forester Dick Buehler said Wednesday. "We had water on that thing in just a few minutes, so that's an advantage we have today that we didn't have yesterday."

Fire conditions had calmed enough by Wednesday evening, however, that crews lit a backburning fire on the high ridge line of the Promontory area. The flames were visible for miles throughout Summit County, especially along the I-80 corridor. But state officials said those were controlled burns that posed no threat to residents.

"That was actually the second ... burnout. We burned out earlier today along the Bridge Hollow border and that one was very successful off the dozer line," said Boyer.

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