SPANISH FORK — As crews continue to battle the combined fires burning in Utah County, officials said the growing bill has surpassed $6 million.
The cost of fighting the Pole Creek Fire has reached $4.7 million. Meanwhile, the Bald Mountain Fire has cost $1.5 million at last report, but "we know it's (now) more than that," said incident commander Todd Pechota.
But last week, Gov. Gary Herbert said if the fires reached homes, it could potentially result in "the biggest loss monetarily" in the state's history.
Fire officials said Tuesday afternoon that crews have been successful so far keeping structures out of reach of the flames.
"Structure protection in the Covered Bridge area … is our primary mission right now. We have a tremendous force up there to protect those structures and infrastructure," said Marty Adell, an incident commander on the Pole Creek Fire.
He said only a small metal shed has been claimed by the fire.
The Bald Mountain Fire was 12 percent contained by Tuesday night and has so far burned more than 15,600 acres, while the adjacent Pole Creek Fire has burned more than 74,500 acres and was 25 percent contained. About 6,000 people remain evacuated due to the flames.
But the weather has cooperated the past two days, according to fire managers, allowing both air crews and Hotshot crews on the ground to make good progress.
"We're breathing a sigh of relief," said Dan Dallas, operations section chief for the fire.
Crews working the Pole Mountain Fire on Tuesday focused on reducing fuels in the blaze's path, preparing the area with hose lays, or "sprinklers," and building a dozer line to create a "larger defensive barrier," Adell said.
Adell said if the fire travels uphill at Spanish Fork Peak, the wind should help push the fire "upon itself a little bit" and different types of vegetation will slow it down.
Meanwhile, on the Bald Mountain Fire, crews Tuesday were building a "control feature" around the perimeter. A control feature is a fire line created by bulldozers and hand crews, which creates a "natural barrier" against the fire's advance, Pechota said.
Aside from a firefighter receiving a minor injury while at base camp on Monday, Pechota said there have been no injuries and no major structures lost.
"The No. 1 objective … is the safety of incident responders and the public. That is a sacred objective. We continue to meet that objective," he said.
As for when evacuated residents will be allowed back into their homes, Pechota hesitated to give an estimate.
"We're doing everything in our power to try and get them into their homes," he said.
The fire Tuesday began to move "to more favorable ground" and has not reached the dozer line, Pechota said at a community meeting Tuesday evening at Salem Hills High School.
The fear of fire officials, however, is allowing residents back to their homes, only to have to evacuate them again the next day because of a sudden shift in wind.
Officials said the community has rallied together, with many evacuees staying with friends and family.
"The amount of support that the community is giving us … the people in this area, not only amongst themselves, taking in their fellow neighbors … but the outpouring of support is quite amazing, to say the least," Adell said.
Homeshare company Airbnb has also activated a program that allows people to offer free stays in their homes to evacuees. More information can be found on Airbnb's website, airbnb.com/welcome/evacuees/utahwildfires.
No new evacuations were ordered Tuesday. Diamond Fork, Sheep Creek and Right Fork Hobble Creek Canyon remained under mandatory evacuation. Left Fork Hobble Creek was put under pre-evacuation status, according to the sheriff's office.
All residents of Woodland Hills, Elk Ridge and the Covered Bridge community near the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon have been out of their homes since last Thursday.
The Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team took over command of the fire on Sunday. Lightning started the Bald Mountain Fire on Aug. 24. Lightning also sparked the Pole Creek Fire on Sept. 6, which grew rapidly due to dry conditions and high winds. The Pole Creek Fire has now burned up to the scar left by the Coal Hollow Fire earlier this year.
With fire crews gaining ground, Gov. Gary Herbert was headed to Taiwan Tuesday night to join up with Utahns on a long-planned trade mission to the region. Herbert was originally scheduled to travel with the group to South Korea earlier in the week, but stayed behind because of the wildfires.11 comments on this story
Herbert's deputy chief of staff, Paul Edwards, said the governor feels he can leave the state after five days monitoring the blazes in Utah County because he is confident in the firefighting plan and impressed with how it is being executed.
"He has had really productive conversations with the leadership down there. The governor has walked the neighborhoods that are most closely impacted by the fire" and spent time with the incident command, Edwards said.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche