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

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 1:49 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) 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.

Travis Mann kisses his fiance, Tawni Sprouse, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. They were to be married Saturday at Tawni's home, which is in the Rockport Fire area in Rockport, Summit County. They were waiting at the roadblock for an escort to go in and get Tawni's wedding dress. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Travis Mann kisses his fiance, Tawni Sprouse, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. They were to be married Saturday at Tawni's home, which is in the Rockport Fire area in Rockport, Summit County. They were waiting at the roadblock for an escort to go in and get Tawni's wedding dress. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

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."

Damage shows at the Rockport Fire in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Damage shows at the Rockport Fire in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

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."

Matt Schiller, who has a home in the Rockport Fire area, scans with his binoculars in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Matt Schiller, who has a home in the Rockport Fire area, scans with his binoculars in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

"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.

Jose Mateo, who works construction in the Rockport Fire area, waits below on the road in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Jose Mateo, who works construction in the Rockport Fire area, waits below on the road in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

"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.

As crews were battling the devastating wildfire Thursday, the frustration of anxious and weary residents who had been out of their homes since Tuesday continued to grow.

"It's been really hard," said Rob Fairbanks, who lives in the Rockport Estates community with his wife. "We've been in the same work clothes since I don't know when."

Fire officials and Summit County sheriff's deputies acknowledged Thursday that emotions among displaced residents were high and they said they understand being evacuated is difficult.

Damage shows at the Rockport Fire in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Damage shows at the Rockport Fire in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Doing their best to help residents, the Summit County Sheriff's Office escorted a continuous stream of owners back to their homes throughout the day to get necessities. Sgt. Ron Bridge said the office had been flooded with calls.

Originally, Bridge announced the sheriff's office would escort people back into their homes on a case-by-case basis only for those who needed items "necessary to sustain life," such as medication, or pets that needed to be rescued. Extra clothing or laptops for people who work from home who need their electronics to "sustain their livelihood" won't be allowed, he said.

"We have been inundated with calls with people begging and pleading to get into their house to get personal items they feel they need, and we're just not willing to put our deputies at risk or put civilians at risk. It's just not worth the price," he said.

Damage shows at the Rockport Fire in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Damage shows at the Rockport Fire in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

"We're not going to stand by and use our resources for people to pack a bag, to retrieve additional clothes, to grab their computer because it has their work on it. That's not what we're there for," Bridge said.

Yet many still convinced deputies to escort them home for quick visits. On Thursday afternoon, Rutter said officials agreed to escort a young woman back to her house to retrieve her wedding dress.

"Had a request I've never had before. A young lady is getting married Saturday. We were able to get into her structure, it's still there, to recover her wedding dress. So, that was kind of emotional. So we're doing what we can," he said.

Other requests, however, were for items such as insulin and other medication.

Matt Schiller, who has a home in the Rockport Fire area, talks on the phone while at the roadblock in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Matt Schiller, who has a home in the Rockport Fire area, talks on the phone while at the roadblock in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

The sheriff's office said it would resume escorting residents in Rockport Estates and Ranches to their homes for essentials on Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

As many tried to get back into their homes, community members also rallied for those who were left with nothing.

The North Summit Junior Athletic League was originally going to hold a fundraiser Thursday night to raise money for new uniforms and equipment. Instead, league vice president Sam Rex said the decision was made to have a barbecue and movie night on the football field at North Summit High School in Coalville, and donate all of the proceeds to the family of one of the leagues' 12-year-old players.

"We have a football player named Cayman Rasmussen who lost his home, lost everything he had. So as a league, we decided we'd put all this money toward his family tonight," he said. "IT Wasn't a question at all. We have enough money in our bank account that we decided that 100 percent of the proceeds tonight are going to the family.

Matt Schiller, who has a home in the Rockport Fire area, talks on the phone while at the roadblock in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. Behind him is his wife, Tschana. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Matt Schiller, who has a home in the Rockport Fire area, talks on the phone while at the roadblock in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. Behind him is his wife, Tschana. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

"We said, 'You know what? There's more important things this money needs to go to,'" Rex said.

The Rasmussens' house was believed to have been the first one lost on Tuesday. Cayman lives with his mother, Crissy, father Jaron and 8-year-old sister Chole.

"This community has just been an awesome place and the people here are just out of this world. Can't say enough good things about them," said Cayman's mother, Crissy Rasmussen.

Rasmussen said she's mostly doing OK by keeping busy, but "every time someone asks it just brings the emotions all back."

Likewise, her son wasn't able to make practice on the night the fire broke out. But he was back at football practice the next night.

Matt Schiller, who has a home in the Rockport Fire area, talks on the phone while at the roadblock in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. At right is his wife, Tschana. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Matt Schiller, who has a home in the Rockport Fire area, talks on the phone while at the roadblock in Rockport, Summit County, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. At right is his wife, Tschana. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

"I think it gets his mind off it, he can go hit somebody," Rex said with a smile. "The first night he didn't (practice). His family called me and asked me what they could do to raise some money to get some new gear because he lost all his football gear in the fire. And I said, 'Show up to practice, we'll take care of that.'

"The community is awesome up here, small town community, you know, that gets together. I'm sure we'll have a whole bunch of people here tonight," he said of the fundraiser. "I was in town earlier today and had two people hand me cash and say, 'I know what you're doing tonight, give it to the family.'"

Starting Friday, a multi-agency resource center will be set up at the Wanship LDS meetinghouse, 30899 Old Lincoln Highway, for any displaced residents who have been impacted in any way by the fire. The center is for people who "have suffered some direct losses, and need immediate compensation," outside of insurance claims, according to the county.

Tawni Sprouse, right, looks at a dress with her mother, Kathy Hugie, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. Travis Mann, center, and Tawni were to be married Saturday at Tawni's home which is in the Rockport Fire area in Rockport, Summit County. They wait at the roadblock for an escort to go in and get Tawni's wedding dress. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Tawni Sprouse, right, looks at a dress with her mother, Kathy Hugie, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. Travis Mann, center, and Tawni were to be married Saturday at Tawni's home which is in the Rockport Fire area in Rockport, Summit County. They wait at the roadblock for an escort to go in and get Tawni's wedding dress. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

The shelter that had been set up in Park City by the American Red Cross closed Thursday. But the shelter in Coalville remained open.

Many of the evacuated residents have been gathering in the campgrounds of Rockport State Park with their RVs. Boating is not allowed until further notice because the helicopters making water drops on the fire have been filling their buckets in the reservoir.

During a brief media tour Thursday afternoon, reporters could still see small pillars of smoke rising from the vegetation of the Rockport Estates area. Many of the homes that were still standing were completely surrounded by black landscape.

Fairbanks said his home was at the top of Rockport Estates and was still standing as of Thursday morning, but it was near a grove of scrub oak.

"If (the fire) goes around that front side and up that draw, you can interview us tomorrow and we'll tell you about how we watched our house burn," he said.

Travis Mann hugs his fiance, Tawni Sprouse, and talks with Kathy Hugie, Tawni's mother, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. Travis and Tawni were to be married Saturday at Tawni's home which is in the Rockport Fire area in Rockport, Summit County. They were waiting at the roadblock for an escort to go in and get Tawni's wedding dress. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Travis Mann hugs his fiance, Tawni Sprouse, and talks with Kathy Hugie, Tawni's mother, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. Travis and Tawni were to be married Saturday at Tawni's home which is in the Rockport Fire area in Rockport, Summit County. They were waiting at the roadblock for an escort to go in and get Tawni's wedding dress. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

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