ALPINE — When James Patterson and his family returned home Thursday night for the first time since the fast-moving Quail Fire forced them out of their house, there was a postcard waiting in the mailbox.
Written on it was a message: "We are proud to have saved your home. Lehi 82 B Shift," followed by the date, "July 3, 5:19 p.m."
"My wife, when she left, she said she thought she'd never see (our house) again. She thought for sure it'd be burned down," Patterson said. "She didn't think our house would be spared by any means."
The Pattersons returned to their immaculate Alpine home that sits on four acres in the upper foothills of the Box Elder Cove subdivision to find the trees, grass and shrubs surrounding their property all blackened. The fire burned a netting on their basketball court and melted a small backboard and basketball. The heat from the flames also destroyed part of a wood fence and melted the siding of a playhouse in the backyard.
Everything else, however, was spared.
"It really is amazing when you see it just circled the house. We're grateful for the heroic efforts of the fire department," Patterson said Friday.
The Quail Fire in the foothills of Alpine has burned more than 2,200 acres and was 65 percent contained Friday. More than 400 personnel, eight engines and four helicopters were fighting the wildfire.
All evacuations had been lifted for the area as of Friday, although police were stationed at entrances to some streets, allowing only residents in the area. Some homes had homemade posters taped to their mailboxes, thanking the firefighters who had saved their homes.
Firefighting efforts continued Friday as crews mopped up hot spots and worked to fully contain the fire. Helicopters and hand crews could be seen dumping water in the foothills. Rain on Thursday helped with the cause and allowed evacuations to be lifted.
Patterson said his wife was home with two of their children when the fire started Tuesday. A firefighter came to their door and told them they needed to leave.
Later, Patterson and his wife, Barbie, watched from a church parking lot as smoke and fire surrounded their home.
"We couldn't see the house, it was just all in smoke," he said. "Finally, after an hour or so, the smoke lifted and we could see the house, so we were extremely grateful for that."
Barbie Patterson later saw the firefighter who had helped her and her family evacuate, and she gave him a big hug.
"She said, 'You saved my home.' He said, 'That's what we do,'" her husband recalled.
Just two weeks ago, Patterson watched from his home, which overlooks a large area of Utah County, as the Dump Fire in Saratoga Springs burned. With all the fires that have been burning in Utah this summer, he said his wife was nervous.
"(She said), 'I'm so worried about fires.' She's kinda had a premonition, I have to give it to her. She kept asking me about different things, and I didn't really think there was going to be a fire. She really had kind of a heads-up on that. I don't know, until it hits home it's never home. It's always your neighbor that these kind things happen to.
"Why our home was spared, I don't know. We certainly feel for those families who have lost their homes. We're nothing special compared to anyone else," Patterson said.
He said he lost a barn near the area where the fires started, but his home, which has a stone exterior, did not sustain any damage.
"I don't know how it didn't burn down, to tell you the truth. It's a miracle. We're just very grateful that our house and none of the homes burned down," he said.
Patterson is the co-owner and president of Patterson Construction. His company had hired a subcontractor to do a geo-technical study in the area prior to building more homes. Part of that included using a backhoe to do excavation work as part of the report.
Patterson said it was his understanding that that backhoe may have started the fire.
"I'm still trying to find out all the information," he said.
American Fork Canyon and Alpine Loop Road have been opened up to the Granite Flat campground and other recreation sites, including Timpanogos Cave National Monument. But the Lone Peak Wilderness, including all trails on the Pleasant Grove Ranger District and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah County, remain closed to ensure public health and safety while crews continued to mop up hot spots.