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Summit County couple stayed in evacuated area of fire to care for wildlife

110 homes remain off-limits until at least Monday because of Rockport Fire

Published: Friday, Aug. 16 2013 6:02 p.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 — Robert and Sherri Berntsen knew the fire was right over the ridgeline. But they didn't want to leave their house.

Not because they thought they could save it. But because someone was needed to take care of the wildlife.

"We don't care about the house, we can rebuild the house," Robert Berntsen said Friday just hours after his evacuated neighbors were allowed to return to their homes.

"You just feel a connection with (the wildlife). They watch you, you connect with them. They bring their babies and show them off every spring. And when they were in trouble, where did they come? They came here," added Sherri Berntsen.

"It really makes you think twice about what's important when you have to leave."

The Berntsens live in a large house surrounded by heavy vegetation near the top of the Bridge Hollow community. They frequently see deer and moose eating some of the greenery around their house. When the Rockport Fire kicked up earlier this week, the wildlife drank a nearby pond dry, they said.

Because of that, the Berntsens filled buckets of water in back of their home several times a day for displaced wildlife to drink. As the couple spoke with the Deseret News Friday morning, an adult female moose and her calf walked into the backyard to drink from the water bucket.

As the residents of the Bridge Hollow and Promontory neighborhoods expressed gratitude to be back in their homes Friday, residents of the fire-ravaged areas of Rockport Estates and Rockport Ranches were told the evacuation order for them will likely continue until Monday evening. There are approximately 110 homes in those communities.

Summit County District Fire Warden Bryce Boyer said "significant improvements" were made Thursday in fighting the Rockport Fire. By Friday night, the 1,920-acre fire was still 50 percent contained. Eight homes, including three primary residences, have burned in those areas.

The main focus for firefighters Friday was to put out the hot spots that were still intertwined among the homes. "We are finding a number of them," Boyer said.

"Our game plan is to continue mopping up, or continue securing the areas around the existing cabins that still have hot areas, and those spots on the west flank of the fire to try and secure that," he said.

Another main reason many residents are still being kept out of their homes is because of infrastructure in need of repair.

Crews needed to secure leaking 500-gallon propane tanks commonly found at each residence; building inspectors were going to look for damage at each structure; and power company workers were expected to start working on all the downed power lines.

Another concern is debris flow. Boyer said thunderstorms are expected Saturday afternoon over the freshly-scarred land.

"What they've been seeing in burns like this is significant debris flows and so on. That's another reason we want to try and keep people out over the weekend," he said.

Brian McInerney, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, toured the burned area Friday. He said even though the probability of a heavy debris flow in that area this weekend is small, it is still a possibility. And it will continue to be a risk for the next two years.

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