Related article: Wildfires rage in eastern, southern Utah
OAK CITY, Millard County — Fire scorched one end of Travis Woolsey's modular home, burned up his half-dozen fruit trees and blackened the dry sage-brush covered fields on his dusty street.
Woolsey, his wife Renae and their 18-year-old special needs son fled per an evacuation order Wednesday evening as the fast-moving flames rushed down a nearby hill.
"I never expected it to be this close to my house. I'm just grateful my family is alive," he said Thursday, stepping over a fallen power line. "It kind of shows that God does bless people."
Gusty winds and acrid smoke greeted residents' return to the town of 850 people Thursday morning. But other than a few small flare-ups, the flames that once surrounded some homes were gone.
"I think they really tried to save the town," Fay Olsen said of firefighters. "They were letting other things burn to save the town and the people."
The Clay Springs Fire has charred 45,000 acres, destroyed one cabin and three city maintenance buildings since it started Wednesday afternoon, according to fire officials. Two city firefighters were hospitalized after suffering second-degree burns. Officials say the human-caused fire is 15 percent contained.
Winds gusting up to nearly 40 mph pushed the raging blaze northeast Thursday over mountains and across parched desert. State Route 125 between Oak City and Leamington remained closed but residents of Fool Creek Flat were allowed to return to their homes.
A California-based Type 2 firefighting team took over management of the blaze from local crews. The team, whose members come from various federal agencies, has the ability get more resources on the ground, said Jill Ivie, Clay Springs Fire spokeswoman.
People in this area have seen dangerous fires before. In 2006, shifting winds during the Devil's Den Fire in Oak Creek Canyon led to the death of a 33-year-old firefighter.
Despite the billowing smoke on the ridge Thursday or maybe because of it, Leamington resident Owen Neilsen, 65, took his daily bike ride on state Route 125.
"I was just up here seeing if I had anything to worry about," he said. "It looks like it's going to miss us."
Earlier, Neilsen cut the brush back around his house as a precaution. "If it comes back, it could hit us but I'm pretty sure it won't."
Oak City residents believe the danger has passed now passed.
"The kid is safe. The pets are safe. The house is still standing," said Renae Woolsey, whose home will be without electricity for a couple of days. The blaze downed at least two dozen power poles and knocked out a television transmission tower.
Neighbors like Thayne Lee set up a bucket brigade during the blustery night to douse hot spots and steer flames from the Woolseys' house.
"I'll tell you what, there was a lot of miraculous things that happened here," said Lee, who lives on a dead-end road across a field from the Woolseys.
The fire split as it reached residential areas, sparing houses as it roared through the cow pastures and farm fields.
"It's like we had a big gob of high pressure over the town and that forced the fire around us," Lee said. "Nobody lost anything."
Norm and Fay Olsen returned to their 115-year-old house Thursday morning after spending the night in their camp trailer in Delta.
"Look at how dry our yard it is. We water it every day. It's dry, dry, dry," Fay Olsen said.
The blaze crashed the Olsens' plans for a family party.
"This is terrible, isn't it? I was supposed to have a family reunion with my all my kids today. We worked so hard and then this fire came in," Fay Olson said.
Flames charred the field around Alden Nielson's watermelon patch on the edge of town. His grandchildren, who usually reap the delicious reward of his labors, led the 88-year-old Nielson around the garden to inspect his droopy but not burned plants.
Asked if his family will be enjoying watermelon this summer, he said, "Don't look like it."
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