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HERRIMAN — A fast-moving 10-alarm fire destroyed three homes and damaged two others — in addition to multiple other structures including garages and barns — Friday, prompting officials to issue a mandatory evacuation.
While officials of the Rose Crest Fire said their hearts went out to the families who lost homes and property, the results could have been much worse.
"I thought we were going to lose upwards to 100 (homes) or so," said Unified Fire Chief Michael Jensen.
The fire, which began about 3:30 p.m., had grown to 350 acres in less than five hours, fire officials said. The burned acres were mostly along the ridgeline.
This is the second time within two years that Herriman residents have been forced from their homes by fire. Utah National Guardsmen were doing a routine machine gun training exercise at Camp Williams Sept. 19, 2010, when wind turned a small grass fire into an inferno that climbed over a hill into the residential area that borders the camp to the north.
The fire ultimately consumed more than 4,300 acres, destroyed three homes and damaged many others. More than 1,600 residents were evacuated during that blaze.
The big difference between that fire and Friday's Rose Crest Fire is that officials knew in 2010 that the fire was coming heading their way over the mountain.
"This happened right in the middle of a developed area," Jensen said.
"It's not the size of the fire, it's the location," added Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
Herbert praised the work of firefighters Friday night, calling their work to save homes a "significantly remarkable effort."
"I'm just in awe of the good work they've done," he said. "We've got the best in the business here fighting fires."
Cause of fire
Officials believe the fire, which is being called accidental, started after someone parked their hot car in an area of tall, dry grass. That car owner's house was not one of the three destroyed, however, Jensen said.
"Car parked over dry grass plus hot muffler equals Rose Crest Fire," Herriman City Councilman Mike Day said in a tweet Friday night.
An emotional Carrie Choquette confirmed that she saw the fire begin across the street from her house, next to a vehicle.
“It was just about maybe waist high, and it wasn't even very big and I saw the fire and the flames and I'm like, 'Oh, no! That's a fire! I got to get the kids.' I saw it was really close — it was just right up the street from us.
"And then when I came back out to the porch, the two trees next to it were just in flames and the next thing I knew, all the stuff right in front of me was all on fire and it was going toward my neighbors' houses.
"It was just so fast! It just went, 'Whoosh, like that, in minutes! I got out without shoes on, just the clothes on my back."
Choquette said she and eight children, including relatives she was baby-sitting, all quickly got out of the house and left the area.
“You don't have to be told to go when you can feel the flames while you're standing on your front porch. You can feel the heat from the flames. You don't say, ‘Hey, do I need to go? You get out!”
Choquette, who was at the evacuation area at Herriman High School, didn't know whether her house was still standing.
“We do not know, but it was heading east, so hopefully it didn't go west,” she said.
Choquette said she had just a few minutes to grab what she could think of. “All I had to time to grab was a kitten, a dog, a computer, my wallet, and not even shoes. We left two goats and 12 chickens up the mountain as well as two cats, and the kids are really upset about that.”
950 homes evacuated
Approximately 950 homes were in the area where officials ordered a mandatory evacuation, which remained in place overnight. Everyone east and south of Rose Canyon Road, including the subdivisions or Rose Canyon and Herriman Cove, were forced to evacuate. Jensen said up to 470 homes there received reverse 911 calls Friday afternoon warning them to get out of the area.
Approximately 115 people and several small animals took advantage of the shelter the Red Cross set up at Herriman High School.
"If you look around, you can see how dry it is. You can see how much the wind is pushing. We just want everyone to be safe," Jensen said.
"It will save ourselves a lot of grief if we're a little cautious," Herbert said Friday night, renewing his message for all Utahns to be careful outdoors this dry season. "It's disappointing we have to (talk about homes destroyed) again."
A Type 3 team from the U.S. Forest Service was expected to take control of the fire about 6 a.m. Saturday. Jensen said local firefighters would be on the scene all night, including crews from the U.S. National Guard on top of the mountain ridgeline.
Jensen said the overnight concern was shifting winds pushing the fire south toward Camp Williams and west to another subdivision.
"The biggest X factor for any of our fires throughout the state is wind," Herbert said.
KSL-TV meteorologist Lynae Miyer said overnight winds in the Herriman area were expected to be between 5 and 15 mph and could become stronger again Saturday afternoon.
Herbert heard about the fire in Herriman while he was visiting two volunteer firefighters at University Hospital's burn unit. Both were injured in the Clay Springs Fire in Millard County. Cameron Neilsen and Ross Anderson suffered burns over 20 percent to 40 percent of their bodies, he said.
"We cannot thank them enough. It is truly a miracle they survived," Herbert said. "These are modern day heroes who volunteered to step into harm’s way for others. Once again I am inspired by the great people who call Utah home.”
Jensen said the Herriman fire would likely burn for a few more days. Officials will re-evaluate Saturday morning whether the evacuation order for some areas can be lifted.
Two people suffered injuries while trying to evacuate from the area. The injuries were sustained from uncooperative horses, officials said.
"Herbert called the Herriman area, like many areas of Utah, "a tinder box ready to go up" because of the extremely dry conditions.
"That's why fire officials are on edge this year," Jensen said, noting the dry spring Utah had.
Another problem for police and fire crews was the the gridlock and crowds of people lining the streets late Friday afternoon. Some were spectators. Others were trying to get into the area that was evacuated to get livestock and personnel items.
"If this happens again, people have to understand that rushing to the scene is not helpful," said Unifed Police Chief Jim Winder.
Kurtis Constantine said his stepfather was at home in Herriman when he got a call from one of his friends who said, "Your hill is on fire. Get out of the house."
His stepfather had time to get his dogs and open the gate for his horses and hook up his trailer, but couldn't get any of the horses loaded up. "He said he was pulling through the flames as he was getting out of his house."
Constantine said it has been difficult as his family has waited and wondered whether the home was still standing and if the horses were OK.
"We knew there was fire on the hill and that fire had surrounded the home. We kept getting these peeks through the smoke that well maybe the house was OK, maybe it's not,'' he said. "We were told the house was on fire, then we found out on the news that maybe it was just the garage burning. It's been hard to get good information, but that's expected.
"We’re very grateful for all the amazing men and women that were up there helping today," he said.
John and RoseAnn Vickery said they were hearing about the fire on television when they realized that their home was in the evacuation area.
“We were watching KSL and they had the mandatory evacuations in red,” John Vickery said.
They didn't realize how close the fire was until they left. “It’s close enough to where it’s scary,” he said.
“It was just right behind us,” his wife added.
“We packed all the important papers and those kind of things that we thought we would need,” John Vickery said. “Old family heirlooms, clothes enough for a couple of days and that was it. We didn’t take any of the non-essential stuff.”
He couldn’t help but laugh at a young couple he saw loading all of their essentials — guns and golf clubs.
“The fire here two years ago, the one at Camp Williams, when it came down the mountain it roared down.” John Vickery said.
“We had sheriffs on our street and they said to get packed up and be ready to go, which we did then too," he said. "But this time this is thing is roaring, really windy up there, and that stuff generates its own wind anyways. So we figured better safe then sorry, might as well do it when we’re calm and not have to panic and get out.”
Terry Sharp said he was at work when he heard that a fire was burning near his home.
"Probably about 4 o'clock, my wife texted and said, 'Pray for our house. The fire's in our backyard.'"
His wife and son only had time to grab a few things, including some 72-hour kits, before they quickly left.
"The flames right behind our fence weren't too big, just because there's not much but some grass there," his son Tyler Sharp said. "But other than that, it was mostly just dense smoke, I couldn't see very far."
For the Sharp family, the experience felt like was déjà vu.
"Same thing about a year ago. Same high school," Terry Sharp said from the temporary shelter at Herriman High.
Pat Storey couldn't help but remember being evacuated from her home because of a wildfire in 2010.
“Last time, someone came to the house, but this time we left before. And just as we were about ready to leave, we heard the doorbell ring,” she said. “I think it is closer this time than the last time, so I’m a little concerned. But I think maybe they’ll get it under control hopefully before anything happens.”
“We could see the flames about 20 yards beyond our backyard,” resident Kendell Glauser said. “We stayed until the cops came and told us to get out, so about the last minute that we could we were still at our house.”
Glauser said he, too, was evacuated from his home in 2010 and had an idea of what he needed to grab.
"I started gathering pictures, photo albums. I took all of the files … our important papers, birth certificates, took our family picture down off the mantle. We kind of just tore through the house grabbing everything," he said.
"Some people came in, neighbors, and I just started handing them stuff to load into our cars. We were able to get quite a bit,” said Glauser's mother, Leisa Glauser.
“Our fence is gone and the fire retardant is all in our backyard and it’s all orange,” she said. “I don’t know how close the house is. Everything is still standing as far as the word we got."
“I saw the fire come over the ridge and within 15 minutes it was at my home,” Herriman resident Jerry Talbot said. “It traveled 200 yards in 15 minutes. It was just going like crazy.”
He said the fire was crossing the road and entering his property when he evacuated. A neighbor called him to say he could see his house.
“It looks like it’s all black around my house, but my house is still standing. Let’s hope it stays that way,” Talbot said.
He tried to save a horse, but said he was too exhausted. He has 12 goats that he left behind. “I wanted to get them out,” he said. “I didn’t have time”
“It’s terrifying,” said Angela Talbot, Jerry Talbot’s daughter-in-law. “This hits really close to home.”
She said her father-in-law had a 500 gallon propane tank on the property. “I guess we’d hear it (blow up),” she said.
Julie Forsgreen was at work when she got a phone call informing her of the fire.
“We're back up against a hill,” Julie Forsgreen said as she stood in the Herriman High School entrance hugging her daughter. “But our neighbors told us it was the hill across from us.”
No one was home so they weren't able to grab anything before the evacuation order was issued.
Hundreds of residents gathered at the Cove at Herriman Springs Pond, 6979 W. Rose Canyon Road, Friday evening, where every couple of minutes a helicopter would dip down to gather water before making another pass over the fire. They stood on top of hills, truck beds and utility sheds trying to keep an eye on their properties as the flames moved up over the mountains.
Other hopeful community members gathered in the Herriman High cafeteria waiting to hear if they would be able to return to their homes only to learn that no one would be returning to their homes Friday night. They remained in high spirits, however, even giving a round of applause to Little Caesar's Pizza and Cafe Rio for providing dinner.
Most people said they planned to stay with relatives or friends rather that sleep at the makeshift shelter.
"Air drops have been authorized and all efforts and resources are being directed to our fire," Herriman officials said on Twitter. Two helicopters and two heavy air tankers were called to assist in the firefighting efforts.
The Rose Crest Fire is one of eight fires burning throughout Utah. Herbert asked local religious leaders to pray with him Friday.
A letter was sent to leaders of local congregations saying: "I am writing to ask you and members of your congregation to join me in praying for the elements to be moderated, the firefighters to be safe, and the lives and homes of our fellow residents to be protected. We are in need of an extra measure of help as we battle these conflagrations."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement of prayer and support Friday.
“As requested by Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert, the church is pleased to come together in prayer with other Utahns during this difficult time. We are mindful of those in Utah and neighboring states who have been impacted by wildfires. We encourage individuals, families and congregations to pray for the safety of firefighters, protection of lives and homes and favorable weather conditions to help control the many wildfires currently burning,” said church spokesman Cody Craynor.
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon declared a state of emergency in the county due to the uncontrolled fire. “We will use all resources at our command to fight this wildfire," he said.
Earlier Friday, Corroon issued an executive order restricting the use of fireworks for all unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County, including Millcreek, Magna and Kearns.
Contributing: Ben Wood
E-mail: [email protected]