Quantcast

Tooele County arson fire leads to contaminated water supply

Published: Thursday, July 17 2014 6:12 p.m. MDT

Residents are warned not to use the water after a fire potentially contaminated the water supply the day before in Stockton, Tooele County, on Thursday, July 17, 2014.

Kristin Murphy, Kristin Murphy/Deseret News

STOCKTON, Tooele County — When Greg Montgomery first saw smoke and flames moving through the grass in his neighborhood, his first thoughts weren't about evacuating his own home, but about saving his new neighbor's barn and RV.

Montgomery, a two-year resident of Stockton, got a shovel and made his way to the road between the fire and Jon Bradshaw's newly built home and barn.

"I was just pounding (the fire) like my life depended on it," Montgomery said. "I could feel the heat, but I didn't care because I didn't want to let the fire get in the pasture behind my neighbor's house."

Bradshaw, who wasn't home at the time, said he was grateful to community members and firefighters for their help in stopping the fire before it reached his property. It was still a close call, he said.

"Thirteen steps. My wife measured it," Bradshaw said. "I just filled that barn with 8 tons of hay. I was a little worried about that."

The Stockton Fire started Wednesday afternoon in the small town south of Tooele before being contained at 179 acres Thursday. Investigators believe the fire was caused intentionally, and Timothy Devone West, 27, was arrested and booked into the Tooele County Jail on suspicion of setting the fire.

Court records indicate West has pleaded guilty to several arson charges since 2010, and police were investigating whether diminished mental capacity played a role in West's involvement with the fire, according to Stockton Police Chief Dan Johnson.

The town's 500,000-gallon water tank was one of several structures destroyed in the fire. Water inside the tank became contaminated when air tankers dropped fire retardant on and around the tank in order to protect a nearby house.

Evacuation orders were lifted Thursday, but Stockton residents remained unable to use the water in their homes until the town transitions to an uncontaminated water system using a smaller reserve water tank. Because the reserve tank shares pipelines with the larger tank, the city's entire water system was being flushed and tested Thursday.

Officials with the Tooele County Health Department said it could take until Saturday to bring the town's water system back online.

In the meantime, residents were filling water containers from large, portable tanks at the Town Hall and at an LDS meetinghouse. Bottled drinking water was donated by local grocery stores and distributed to residents who were affected by the fire.

Resident Scott Griffin said not being able to shower in his home is frustrating, but it underscores the importance of being prepared.

"It's inconvenient, but it's kind of an eye-opening experience," Griffin said. "It lets us know that we need to be a little more conscientious of things that can burn around our house and to get our 72-hour kits in place and keep the car full of gas. It's an eye-opener for us."

Lea Nelson and her family were evacuated from their home, which was near the west edge of the fire driven by steady winds.

"I was surprised at how fast it was going," Nelson said. "I have a whole different respect for fire seeing how fast that was moving."

After learning that West was suspected of starting such a destructive fire, Nelson said she felt sympathy for his family, with whom she's well-acquainted.

"We were pretty shocked," she said. "We knew his brothers and sisters. He's from a good family. He's just a nice kid."

About 55 firefighters were in the latter stages of mop-up Thursday afternoon, patrolling the fire's edge and around homes, putting out remaining hot spots, according to Trent Bristol, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Stockton residents with questions about the town's water restoration efforts were encouraged to call the Town Hall at 435-882-3877.

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS