Killer Fire Rages Out of Control
MIDWAY, Utah (AP) _ More crews were mobilized Monday as the wind picked up again, whipping a 3,000-acre fire that killed two firefighters and destroyed 19 homes outside this northern Utah mountain community.
The fire, of unknown origin, exploded across 2,500 acres and through several canyons with the help of 40 mph wind Sunday, burning to within a half- mile of Midway, a community of 1,200.
About 200 firefighters worked Monday to build containment lines around the stubborn blaze 30 miles east of Salt Lake City. At dusk, the crew was cut in half to give exhausted firefighters a chance to rest. The remaining crew should be able to handle the fire overnight as temperatures cooled and winds died down, said Dick Buehler, deputy incident commander.
Uinta National Forest spokeswoman Vicki May said a fire line had been partially completed along the fire’s northeastern perimeter, and air tankers made passes over the northwestern corner to aid ground crews in snuffing stubborn hot spots.
But while crews made against the blaze during the morning, wind out of the south picked up early in the afternoon, pushing flames northward through oak brush and pine trees left tinder-dry by drought.
About 300 homes were evacuated in the fire’s path.
Uinta spokesman Bevan Killpack said the two dead firefighters were working on a ridge late Sunday, trying to build a fire line with a bulldozer, when flames ″blew up (and) confused them.″ The pair apparently were overcome by smoke, although their bodies were severely burned when they were found.
″The wind must have changed and got them disoriented with the smoke and trapped them in there,″ Killpack said.
The victims were identified as Wasatch County Sheriff’s Deputy Blake Wright, 39, of Heber City, and Ralph Broadhead, 65, a county public works employee.
Sheriff Edd Thacker said the two were trapped between the fire and a cliff and cleared wood and brush away with a bulldozer in a vain attempt to avoid the flames.
″They did what they were supposed to do. They tried what they knew how, but it was a firestorm,″ he said. ″Investigators estimate that 1,100-degree temperatures went through there. That’s like a blowtorch.″
Gov. Norm Bangerter, who flew over the fire area late Monday morning, offered his sympathy to the victims’ families.
Atop Faucett Canyon, Dale Jablonski, area forester for State Lands and Forestry, supervised firefighters cutting a line between the blaze and a nearby cabin Monday.
″What we’re trying to do now is get a safety zone where we can make a stand, and if the fire makes a run at us, we can get out,″ he said, watching his crew and a bulldozer clear away trees and brush.
In Midway, about 100 people gathered outside the town hall to watch the fire and look over a map of the area. Most were cabin owners trying to figure out if their summer homes lay in the fire’s path.
″I’m a homeowner, well, I guess lot owner now,″ lamented Louis Cardon, whose $150,000 cabin in the Devil’s Hole area was one of the first to be gutted by flames.
Norval Lambert was waiting to hear whether his cabin in Lime Canyon was safe. The fire was just one ridge away from his home, he said.
Lambert said his cabin, which he began building in 1971, was filled with antiques. ″There’s some stuff there I just can’t replace. You can’t put a value on it.″
The firefighting force included crews from the U.S. Forest Service, the state, the National Park Service, Wasatch County, Utah State Prison and the cities of Provo, Orem, Lehi, Pleasant Grove and American Fork.