Some evacuated residents allowed to return home as crews contain 50% of wildfire

Published: Thursday, Aug. 15 2013 8:50 a.m. MDT

A chopper flies back for more water to dump on the Rockport Fire in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

ROCKPORT, Summit County — Evacuated residents of the Promontory and Bridge Hollow subdivisions were told late Thursday they could go home as fire crews started to gain an upper hand on the Rockport Fire.

"It's safe enough that we feel they can return and not worry about it," said Summit County District Fire Warden Bryce Boyer.

In addition, after going through the Rockport Estates and Rockport Ranches neighborhoods Thursday, fire officials revised the number of total structures burned to eight, down from 14. Of those eight structures, two were primary residences in the Rockport Estates community and one was a primary resident in Rockport Ranches, said Boyer.

Three cabins or part-time residences burned in Rockport Estates and one in Rockport Ranches. In addition, a yurt being used as a cabin burned in Rockport Estates.

"At this point, we believe that is what the structure count will be. There are, like, additional campers and that kind of thing that was in the area, boats, ATVs, vehicles that were parked in the fire area that have been burned and destroyed," Boyer said.

An exact count of how many boats and campers burned will be determined later, he said.

Because of mild weather on Thursday, crews were able to build fire lines and bring the 1,920 acre fire up to 50 percent containment.

For the residents of Rockport Estates and Rockport Ranches where the homes were burned, there was still no estimate on when the evacuation order would be lifted.

"We have a number of hazards still out there. They're still chasing the fire and we have downed power lines," said fire management officer Steve Rutter. "These 500-gallon propane tanks they have around their homes, the valves have burned so they're leaking propane. So we can't put people in. The water is off. So there's really no way we can logically let people in yet."

Boyer said the main focus for firefighters on Friday will be the hot spots in those areas. He said power company crews should also be able to get into those areas and begin their assessments to restore power to the region.

"There are still homes that could be in jeopardy based on heating and the oak brush," he said.

State officials planned on using infrared devices Thursday night to map out exactly where all those hot spots were.

What helped firefighters on Thursday, Rutter said, was the lack of erratic winds that had created havoc for fire crews the past two afternoons, including what he called "crazy, squirrely runs."

"The fire has calmed down today. The last two days have been terrible. Large flame lengths, lengths of spread that have been ridiculous. We had a hard time inserting firefighters due to that danger," he said.

"We are getting the upper hand. But I don't like to speak of it. We're superstitious. We think that, but I really don't like to voice it long. It can change in the space of one minute. That's all it's going to take if the right breath of wind, right slope with the right fuel and we could be chasing it again. It's still touch and go. It's real critical. No one is letting their guard down," Rutter said.

Five helicopters dumped water on the fire Thursday, including three Blackhawk helicopters from the Utah National Guard activated by Gov. Gary Herbert.

"The governor got us their Blackhawks. He's my hero. I love those things. They give us a lot of water," Rutter said.

If all continues to go well, Rutter estimated that a full containment could be reached by Sunday. But it could still be weeks before the fire is completely extinguished.

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