Wildfire near popular Utah fishing lake burns 90 structures
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A wind-fueled wildfire burning through bone-dry vegetation near a popular fishing lake in Utah has burned about 90 structures, closed a stretch of highway and scuttled holiday and summer plans for countless people whose cabins are in the blaze’s path.
About 1,100 people have been impacted by the evacuations and a total of 1,000 homes are threatened in a blaze that grown to 66 square miles (171 square kilometers) near a popular fishing reservoir about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Salt Lake City, according to information from the Utah Department of Emergency Management
The burned structures likely include many homes and cabins, while others may be sheds or garages.
A 35-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 40 has been closed since Wednesday.
Scorching summer temperatures have contributed to how fast the fire has spread and made work difficult for firefighters, said Donald Jaques, a spokesman who works for the U.S. Forest Service. Temperatures were in the 90s again on Thursday.
“We have ripe conditions for extreme fire behavior,” Jaques said. “We’re at record, historic levels of dryness for that vegetation.”
The fire is 4 percent contained, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands reported as of Thursday morning.
Officials believe the fire, which was reported Sunday, was caused by human activity, but an exact cause hasn’t been determined.
The wildfire is near Strawberry Reservoir, which has remained open for fisherman and visitors except for a period on Wednesday, when a portion of the lake was closed because planes were needed to scoop water from the lake to dump on the blaze.
A community meeting was held Thursday night in the town of Duchesne for homeowners and residents to get updates from fire officials and to ask questions. Most residents wanted to know when they could return home and what condition their homes were in.
Duchesne County Sheriff David Boren urged the crowd to be patient, the Salt Lake Tribune reported .
“We’ll do the best we can with what we have,” Boren said.
Tony Gilmore, fire incident commander, said the fire has spread about 5 miles (8 kilometers) a day and “has the ability to move a great distance in a short amount of time.”
Darren Lewis, a window salesman from the Salt Lake City suburb of Magna, is one of many seeking answers. His family’s cabin is in the path of the fire. Lewis said he fears the A-frame structure built 46 years ago by his uncle and father has been burned, though he’s waiting on confirmation.
Lewis, 44, and his extended family were planning to spend the Fourth of July on the property that sits in a narrow canyon near a river. Instead, they spent the day in Magna nervously waiting for news and watching social media for fire updates, while trying to keep a semblance of holiday normalcy for the kids.
The cabin was among the evacuated homes Monday, and they haven’t been able to go back since, he said. The cabin is a frequent family gathering spot and has special sentimental value considering his father and his uncle who built both died last year. He said his 85-year-old aunt was bawling over the news.
“That’s our healing place,” Lewis said.