HERRIMAN — Police arrested a juvenile suspected of starting a Herriman brush fire that burned two homes, injured five emergency workers and prompted neighborhoods to be evacuated Saturday.
The juvenile sparked the blaze while playing with a smoke bomb, said Unified Fire Authority spokesman Matthew McFarland. The source of the blaze highlighted the dangerous conditions that are currently prevalent throughout the valley, he said.
"This wasn't a sparkler or something that puts out a huge array of fire or sparks," McFarland said. "It was a smoke bomb that doesn't show any sparks, but just kind of gets hot. That in itself in the grass was enough to get this whole thing going."
The evacuations were in place for most of Saturday afternoon, but residents were allowed to return to their Herriman homes by early evening as fire crews got the brush fire under control.
Denise Howland, however, doesn't have a home to return to. She arrived home Saturday afternoon to discover the house where she’s lived in for about a decade was burning.
“My house was in flames. My children’s bedroom windows were in flames,” she said.
“All the memories. The pictures of the kids when they were little. The trips we took and a lot of family history is gone,” Howland said.
Next door, the flames burned Elizabeth Loy’s doorstep.
“We’re just incredibly lucky,” she said, but devastated for her neighbor.
“It’s actually really heartbreaking for me, knowing that our neighbors lost a home to something that was very reckless,” Loy said.
The fire scorched over 100 acres, destroyed two houses and a shed while also causing power outages for scores of residents. Five emergency responders were treated for injuries. One firefighter was transported to a hospital for treatment, but was later released. Four Unified police officers were treated for smoke inhalation, according to fire officials.
In explaining which homes were burned, McFarland noted the homes that were burned were not in particularly close proximity, which shows the significant impact the strong winds had on the fire's direction.
"There was easily 500 or 600 yards between them," he said, adding that the distance between damaged structures was due to the "erratic, wind-driven" flames that were being swept across the area in the quick-moving fire, he added.
"One of them (a manufactured home) was pretty close to the origin, the other larger log construction was (a distance away)," he said.
The fire was first reported about 1:30 p.m. as a grass fire. Winds caused the blaze to quickly spread, said McFarland. The fire prompted mandatory evacuations in areas including the High Country Estates community.
Fanned by high winds and extremely dry conditions, the wildfire threatened multiple other homes and structures in the Herriman area.
"Those high winds made using air resources impossible," he added.
"It came close to a dozen or more homes," McFarland said. However, having more than 100 firefighters on hand to battle the blaze proved very effective in getting the fire contained relatively quickly.
"With those (personnel), we had people assigned to structure protection so many of those homes were saved by the efforts of firefighters right there on their property who were able to control the fire's directive," McFarland said. "They couldn't fight it entirely, but they were able to protect the property from the movement."
• Meanwhile, in Tooele County, Grantsville firefighters deployed multiple resources on a fire on I-80 near mile marker 101 and in the hills above Lake Point. The Great Salt Lake State Park & Marina was closed and evacuated due to the approaching fire.
Utah Highway Patrol troopers confirmed the closure of state Route 201 in the area and diverted drivers for several hours. One eastbound lane was opened about 9:30 p.m.7 comments on this story
The blaze crossed onto property owned by the state's largest mining operation, but thus far has not threatened any structures.
“The fire is burning on our property but it has not reached our smelter yet. The smelter is the area known with the tall visible stack. It is a part of the copper production process," said Kennecott Utah Copper spokesman Kyle Bennett.
"We evacuated the smelter as a precaution for the safety of our employees. Since the fire has not reached the smelter, none of our structures have been affected by the fire."
Contributing: Caitlin Burchill