Residents of 80 homes in Emigration Canyon remained evacuated Saturday night, as a raging fire came within yards of many of the structures in the secluded canyon residential areas.
Despite early frustrations that residents were being treated poorly by officials, residents cheered firefighters at a late evening briefing for keeping the fire away from their homes.As of late Saturday, no structures had been damaged by the 3,000-acre blaze that continued to burn out of control through the dry, heavy oak brush in the Killyon Canyon and Pinecrest, eight miles northeast of Hogle Zoo.
At 3 p.m. Saturday, the Salt Lake County sheriff's office closed the canyon to traffic, except for residents who could verify they lived below 60th East. Concerned homeowners consoled each other throughout the day in the parking lot of Ruth's Diner, two miles from the zoo. Many were upset about the lack of information.
"The cooperation from officials has been pretty horrible," said Suzanne Breeke, who was evacuated from her Pinecrest home Friday evening.
Other residents echoed similar frustrations. Some said they were told by officials that "it's your fault for building up there."
Some of the residents were upset with officials for not allowing them to pick up their children that had been dropped off by school buses. "It was only after we got extremely angry that we were allowed up to our homes to get our children," one resident said.
However, residents seemed to change their attitude toward fire officials later Saturday, after officials held two meetings to inform homeowners about the condition of the fire. Meetings were planned for 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
Ed Storey, U.S. Forest Service Spokesperson, updated residents Saturday evening, using a homemade map. "The winds are shifting upslope and we have crews working to drive the fire into a main burn area.
"But if (the wind) turns around, there could be problems. We are expecting 30 mph winds tonight, but it's been much cooler and moist today. It depends entirely on the winds tonight."
Storey was applauded when he said no homes had been damaged.
"You people are really doing a great job," one resident yelled from the crowd. Many homeowners offered to provide food and sleeping quarters for the tired crews. Others volunteered their services to help fight the fire.
Storey told residents that lived below 60th East that they could remain in their homes overnight, and if they needed to be evacuated, officials would give them at least a two-hour notice.
He said residents of Pinecrest would have to wait until the fire was less severe before they could retrieve any of their belongings. Although many residents were disappointed, they agreed with Storey that safety was more important than belongings.
Many residents who attended the meeting had been upset earlier about the evacuations and roadblocks. One homeowner, returning home after midnight, said he parked his car at the barricade and walked six to seven miles up the canyon to get his dogs, important documents and pictures from his $250,000 home, located a half mile below Pine-crest. Sheriff's vehicles passed him along the road.
Other homeowners, warned of the advancing flames, hid in their basements after they were told to evacuate. One stayed until 4 a.m. Saturday, spraying his house.
Two men were issued citations for disorderly conduct. One, Vince Rogers, tired of getting conflicting reports from the media, neighbors and officials, decided to climb through the underbrush and over a ridge to see his house in Killyon Canyon firsthand.
Rogers was stopped by a deputy sheriff and ordered back to the officer's jeep. He was told that if he didn't respond immediately, he would be placed under arrest when apprehended.
Upon returning to the Killyon Canyon road, he said he was given a citation for disorderly conduct.
Although the residents have softened their attitude toward fire officials, they are still heartbroken about the affects of the blaze.
"It is so frightening. Everything we have put into it and love, we could lose," said Marilyn Thompson. She and her husband, Mel, own two homes in Pine-crest, and Saturday afternoon didn't know the condition of either home.
Brad Feulner, who was evacuated from his home Friday, also exressed dismay over the situation.
Pat Sheya, who's lived in Emigration Canyon 31 years, called Friday's fire the area's worst disaster.
"We have never had a summer this dry and never had a fire like this one," she said. "The thing that is so scary is that it would be so simple for this (fire) to come right on down across the ridges all the way to the city. There is nothing to stop it."
Salt Lake residents felt the threat as a smoky haze settled over the valley.
Because Salt Lake came close to or exceeded the primary health standard for fine particulate (smoke), a Utah Department of Health official issued a health alert.
People with lung problems, such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema or other disorders, should stay indoors with their windows and doors shut, said Ken Alkema, director of the Division of Environmental Health.
"If Sunday morning you can see across the valley, it's all right," he said. "You can tell how serious it is by how far you can see." If visibility is as low as a mile, that would indicate there is a problem.
"You can at least see this particular pollutant and respond accordingly."
Alkema said the standard for fine particulate is 150 micrograms per cubic meter. "At our station just off Fifth South and the interstate, we were at 147 micrograms per cubic meter Saturday morning. It is not close to an emergency, which is about 300 micrograms per cubic meter."