Strong, dry winds, temperatures hitting near 100 and little moisture turned grasses and trees into kindling Tuesday as fire agencies in Salt Lake County battled dozens of blazes.
The Salt Lake City-County Fire dispatch office responded to nearly 300 calls between Monday and Tuesday, Battalion Chief Gordon Nicholl said, adding that fireworks were to blame."There is no lightning. That's one thing we're sure of. It can be almost anything," including spontaneous ignition from an oily rag sitting in the sun, fireworks and cigarette butts.
Salt Lake City firefighters extinguished a grass fire in the Salt Lake County Club area that threatened homes in the prestigious eastside neighborhood. Residents of four homes were evacuated.
"I stepped out the door and flames were shooting right up above the horizon," resident Dennis Larsen said.
Larsen, who called authorities when the fire broke out shortly before 3 p.m., said the smoke was "just like a London fog" that enveloped houses along the street, about 22nd East and 24th South.
More than a dozen firefighters spent 90 minutes putting out flames from the scrub oak and grass burn that covered 15 acres, Battalion Chief LaMont Epperson said.
"It came too near our house," said former Gov. Calvin Rampton. "It burned into the neighbor's yard" and up to the porch.
Dry winds fanned a fire that straddled the Draper-Sandy line to 20 acres, Battalion Chief Mike Veenendaal said.
Crews from two communities fought the fire that charred grasses and shrubs but did not threaten structures, the chief said.
"We have several different situations involved," Veenendaal said. "We don't know if we have someone lighting fires or what actually is the total cause."
Since Monday morning, 75 fires were reported in Sandy, he said.
"We had 274 fire calls yesterday and 97 of them were in Salt Lake City proper. And that's a lot of calls," Nicholl said. "By far, the majority of them were grass fires. They're just keeping us going crazy."
Weather conditions have "made for an absolutely explosive situation with fire danger this year," he said.
Elsewhere, a fire at the Regal Inn Motel, 1025 N. Ninth West, caused $15,000 damage Tuesday night. Nicholl said fire was reported at 11:02 p.m. It started in a storage room and spread to the ceiling. The storage room, filled with furniture was being renovated for occupancy.
Nicholl said the honeycomb-like concrete construction of the building kept the fire from spreading from the unit. No injuries resulted from the fire and those in adjoining rooms were evacuated. The cause of the fire was still being investigated Wednesday.
Forest Service fire crews responded during the two-day period to only three fires totaling about 25 acres, said Pete Hansen, Interagency Fire Center spokesman. "We're in good shape right now."
Meanwhile, more than 120 firefighters continued to battle a 850-acre fire in Zion National Park about 2 1/2 miles southeast of Lava Point near the West Rim Trail. Another 80 firefighters were to join the fight later Wednesday. The fire was started by lightning June 19 by lightning, and at first was allowed to burn in a small area, in accordance with park policy. However, on Sunday winds ranging from 30 to 60 mph fanned the flames out of control, and the fire reached 750 acres Tuesday. No containment time had been estimated.
"We had been told to expect severe winds this afternoon, but so far they haven't materialized," Chief Ranger Bob Andrew said late Tuesday. "Right now everything's in pretty good shape."
Crews under the direction of the Interagency Fire Center in Salt Lake City, including the firefighting team from the Utah State Prison, are at the scene helping to fight the blaze.