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Small number of evacuees allowed back home in Pole Creek Fire area

September 20, 2018
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Smoke partially obscures a section of Payson Canyon on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018.

A small number of people who were under mandatory evacuation for the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires were allowed home Wednesday evening — the first group of evacuees to return to their properties.

According to Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, people who evacuated their homes in the Eagles Landing subdivision north of Indianola were able to return home Wednesday evening, as were people who live between the Eagles Landing area and the Utah County and Sanpete County line.

Cannon estimated that there are 18 homes in the Eagles Landing subdivision and about 12 more near the county line.

Those areas are now considered in pre-evacuation status.

The closure on U.S. Highway 89 was also reduced, Cannon said. That closure was reduced to a 10-mile stretch between mile markers 302 and 312, Cannon said, which opened the way for those evacuees to return home.

All other evacuation orders and pre-evacuation notices remain in place.

In firefighting efforts to date, more than 530,000 gallons of retardant have been dropped, according to incident commander Marty Adell.

As of Wednesday night, the two fires had burned nearly 105,000 acres combined — 88,420 acres for the Pole Creek Fire and 16,554 for the Bald Mountain Fire, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Pole Creek Fire was reported at 28 percent containment and the Bald Mountain Fire at 12 percent.

So far, no structures have been lost in the Bald Mountain Fire, according to incident commander Todd Pechota.

The Pole Creek Fire continues to grow the most at the northern end, Adell said. Crews have been working to keep it in check with heavy air tankers, and helicopters. The fire has advanced through the Little Diamond Fork area, and is just shy of Wanrhodes area off of Diamond Fork Canyon.

A couple of small sheds were lost in the in the Little Diamond Fork area, Adell said.

Dave Whittekiend, the supervisor of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, said there are picnic grounds, trails and campgrounds that have been heavily impacted by the fires.

The U.S. Forest Service is already planning for how to recover from those losses, as well as deal with the impacts the fire will have into the future, including landslides and flooding, Whittekiend said.

Drone affects air operations

Officials announced Wednesday afternoon that air operations at the southern end of the fire zones were suspended because a private drone was spotted in the area.

The call about the drone first came in at about 2:45 p.m.

Officials said in an afternoon briefing that the suspension was a bit of a blow to operations as winds were in their favor at that point, blowing the fire back into already-burned areas.

The efforts in that area were to lock up the southern end and keep it from advancing while the winds were favorable, and operations section chief Dan Dallas said the drone was a “significant interruption.”

Several helicopters and other aircraft in that area were redirected to work on other parts of the fire during the temporary flight restriction.

The air operations resumed in the southern area at around 4:40 p.m.

“The teams have resumed air operations over the southern portion of the #PoleCreekFire and #BaldMountainFire after determining it was safe to operate again,” Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest wrote in a social media post.

Cannon encouraged anyone who knew who was flying the drone to contact law enforcement.

“It puts lives at stake,” Cannon said. “When they have to pull assets off of an area, they choose to put assets where they’re needed, and they have to pull them away from an area that needed those air assets. Somebody who’s selfish enough to do that deserves to be charged. And we will find out who it is and we will make sure that they get charged.”

Cannon also encouraged people to be on the lookout for drone footage taken over the fire. Someone will want to post the footage on social media, Cannon said, and encouraged anyone who saw such footage to report it to the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.

Poor air quality

Spanish Fork’s air quality hit hazardous levels Wednesday morning due to smoke from the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires.

Smoke pollution in Spanish Fork was in the “very unhealthy” range at 9 a.m. and reached the “hazardous” range at 11 a.m., according to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. By mid-afternoon, the smoke had dissipated, leading to improved air quality rating to below the “very unhealthy” range.

People were recommended to stay indoors and limit outdoor exertion. Children, older adults and people with lung disease are especially susceptible to unhealthy air.

Utah County’s overall air was listed in the “moderate” category, as of noon Wednesday, based on a 24-hour average.

The moderate range means people who are highly-sensitive to air pollution should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.

A wildfire smoke advisory the Utah County Health Department issued on Friday remains in effect.

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