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SARATOGA SPRINGS — Anxious residents were told they could finally return to their homes Saturday evening as air and ground crews continue battling the Dump Fire Saturday.
Hot shot crews worked through the night trying to contain the wildfire, which grew from 4,100 acres Friday night to 6,023 acres Saturday afternoon.
"We made good progress last night," said fire public information officer Kim Osborn, with the U.S. Forest Service. "Crews were up all night."
At 5 p.m., Saratoga Springs officials announced they would allow residents to return home but warned them to be packed and prepared should another evacuation order be issued because of the unpredictable fire.
Srong winds pushed the fire west overnight — something officials weren't expecting. Two additional homes along Lake Mountain Road in Eagle Mountain were evacuated overnight as a precaution, Osborn said.
Fire officials indicated the fire was about 30 percent contained. But they reconfigured the official number of homes evacuated and believe less than 600 homes were evacuated, including about 400 in Saratoga Springs and 200 in Eagle Mountain. Some reports on Friday put the number at 1,500.
But from the fire command center and from Westlake High School, 99 N. 200 West, where the Red Cross set up an emergency shelter for those who were displaced, residents noticed a drastic improvement from Friday. There was blue sky over the evacuated area Saturday morning, as opposed to Friday when ash and smoke blocked out the sun.
Most evacuated residents spent the night with friends and family. Only 13 people slept overnight at the high school, according to the Red Cross. But Saturday morning, many residents returned the shelter, hoping to hear information about when they could return to their homes.
"They said they won't know really anything until this afternoon," said Dennis Peterson, whose home was one of the first evacuated about 10:30 a.m. Friday. He and his wife spent the night with family members in Highland.
"Yesterday there was a whole bunch of smoke and I could see why they'd kick you out. But today the smoke is gone. I don't know why they're holding us out. But I'm sure they're doing it for safety," he said.
Officials pounded on the Petersons' door Friday and told them there was a mandatory evacuation. They grabbed their 72-hour kits, a few clothes and personal items and were gone in 15 minutes.
"(The fire) was pretty close, it was very smoky when we left. So we knew we needed to get out," Nancy Peterson said. "We're good (today). We're going to be alright.
"We can see our house area from where we're at, and everything looks good."
Inside the high school, the Red Cross also set up a fire information area for residents, including maps, to show them the area that was evacuated, where the fire was burning and how much of the fire was contained.
"We're very anxious to get back (home). But we just talked to them in there and they said they're worried about the wind shifting later this morning so they're not ready to let people back in yet," said Kevin Sater, who was evacuated from his Saratoga Hills home and spent the night in a hotel in Provo.
Sater said police came to his home about 10:30 a.m. Friday and told him and his wife they had to leave.
"We packed really fast.The conditions were just changing really fast. I mean, the neighborhood just filled with smoke and ash within 30 minutes so we packed really fast and got out," he said.
Looking at the area Saturday morning, Sater said he felt confident his home was not burned.
"I'm not really afraid of the house burning. It's more smoke damage and that kind of thing because yesterday it was really thick," he said.
Kami Wendel, who lives in the Saratoga Hills subdivision, said she got a call from police about 11 a.m. and was told to leave.
"They just said, 'This is a mandatory evacuation. You have a few minutes to get your stuff and get out.' We just got stuff to sleep overnight and headed out," she said.
Wendel, her husband and their five boys stayed with relatives overnight.
"You could see flames, but our house is kind of at the bottom of the subdivision," Wendel said. "There was a little bit of stress with the explosion plant, that was a little stressful, but I felt our house would be OK."
Saturday morning, the Wendels attempted to drive back to their home, but a police officer blocking the street told them it was still closed off and there was no immediate word when it would reopen.
"We're not frustrated, just ready to get back and get going or hear what's going on," Wendel said.
Osborn said officials would be re-evaluating fire and weather conditions Saturday morning when trying to determine when residents could be allowed to return to their homes.
Fire officials said about 3 p.m. is traditionally when fire conditions can be the worst. They hope that what's known in the fire community as a "Swiss cheese model" won't occur at that time. That's a worst case scenario where the temperature, wind, humidity and dry fuels all line up to figuratively form a giant hole for those fighting the fire to fall into.
A Red Flag warning has been issued for the area through Sunday, according to fire officials, meaning high winds and high temperatures are predicted. Meteorologists have predicted temperatures may reach 100 degrees Saturday and Sunday along the Wasatch Front.
Winds were forecasted to be sustained at between 15 to 20 mph in Saratoga Springs on Saturday, according to fire officials, with gusts up to 30 mph.
Most of the helicopters being used to fight the fire are grounded when the wind hits 30 mph, according to fire officials, while the Type 1 Sky Crane helicopter is grounded when the wind speed reaches 40 mph. There is one Sky Crane helicopter fighting the Dump Fire.
"Evaluations will be made today to determine if evacuations can be lifted as soon as this evening," fire officials said on their incident webpage.
In addition to homes, Osborn said fire crews were attempting to keep the fire from spreading to the Israel Canyon area, a region that has not had a wildfire in 100 years, she said.
"There's a lot of natural resources there," Osborn said.
Both air and ground crews were working the fire Saturday. No homes had been burned in the fire, but a safety concern for firefighters was downed power lines from several power poles that had burned.
One firefighter also suffered minor burn injures on Friday.
The Dump Fire was started about 11:30 a.m. Thursday by a target shooter. The fire was less than 800 acres Friday morning, but exhibited "explosive behavior" because of strong winds Friday and it more than quadrupled in size.
About 300 personnel were fighting the fire Saturday — including 10 hand crews, consisting of about 20 firefighters per crew, working the containment lines. Three helicopters, 17 engines and four water-feeders, which supply water to the engines and wet the roads down, were assisting in the efforts.
The Dump Fire received its name because it started near the Saratoga Springs city landfill.
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