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Brush Fire Destroys 18 Homes; Two Firefighters Killed

August 27, 1990

MIDWAY, Utah (AP) _ A wind-driven brush fire that mushroomed from 120 acres to 2,500 in an afternoon killed two firefighters and destroyed 18 summer homes, authorities said.

The firefighters, whose names were not immediately released, were apparently overcome by smoke early today, a spokesman said.

″The wind must have changed and got them disoriented with the smoke and trapped them in there,″ said Bevan Killpack, Uinta National Forest fire information officer. ″That happens if you don’t have people watching the behavior of the fire.″

About 200 firefighters battled the blaze overnight, and fire bosses issued a call for 160 more, officials said. Dozens of residents were evacuated from the path of the flames, which were sent racing by canyon wind gusting to 40 mph.

Dick Buehler, deputy incident commander, told more than 100 residents at a noon meeting that only 18 homes and cabins in the Swiss Alpine subdivision had been confirmed destroyed, a figure revised sharply downward from the 50 homes fire officials had believed were burned.

Top priority was given to saving 300 homes in the Devil’s Hole, Lime Canyon and Snake Creek areas. The homes destroyed were in Devil’s Hole, said Uinta forest spokeswoman Loyal Clark. The fire was partly in the forest.

″It’s a summer-home area where the fire’s concentrated, and most of the people in there have left and gone back to their homes. Most of those people had residences in Salt Lake (City) and other areas,″ sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Winterton said.

The number of those who fled was not immediately known.

Smoke from the blaze a half-mile south of Midway drifted over Salt Lake City, about 30 miles to the northeast.

Joan Smith, a Salt Lake real estate broker visiting the area, said the smoke in the afternoon was so heavy it looked like dusk.

″The sun was blood red it was so thick,″ she said.

When word came that flames were fast approaching the Dahl home, family members grabbed photo albums, important documents and their two dogs.

″We just freaked out,″ Millie Dahl said. ″The house is totally gone. We didn’t get our clothes, our truck, another car, our snowmobile and the Snowcat out of there in time.″

Mrs. Dahl, 39, her husband, Will, 48, and the couple’s three teen-age children spent the night with friends. Their house in the Swiss Alpine neighborhood was one of the few permanently inhabited homes to go, she said.

″I wish we could have had 10 more minutes, but the smoke was billowing,″ she said. ″It was obvious that there was a problem. Fortunately, nobody cried, no one got hysterical and no one fell apart.″

The fire had simmered since Thursday or Friday until the wind Sunday pushed the flames up a mountainside into pine forests and dry oak brush.

Gusts carried embers into adjacent canyons, making it difficult for firefighters to predict its spread, Clark said.

Fire bosses ordered more crews ″from wherever they can get them,″ said Dave Smith of the Interagency Fire Center in Salt Lake City.

A call was also put out for more air tankers and helicopters. Firefighters late Sunday had one of each, officials said.

″We need the air tankers really bad because of the threat to those structures,″ Clark said. ″This looks like our big one of the year.″

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