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Woodland Hills man, sister in South Carolina both evacuated at the same time; other evacuees wait

September 15, 2018

A resident of Elk Ridge removes a box from his house, while firefighters are stationed down the street during the Pole Creek Fire on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018.

Woodland Hills resident Mike C. Reid is an evacuee of the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires.

Reid is not unaccustomed to homes being threatened by fire. It has happened throughout his life.

“When I was in high school we came out to Idaho for a wedding. When we went back home (in Chicago), we found our home almost burned down,” Reid said.

While his family was looking for a new place to live in Chicago, they rented a basement apartment and were given a room to store their belongings in the apartment building. According to Reid, someone broke into the room and started a fire. Reid said they caught it before they lost anything. His older sister who lived in North Chicago and a brother both have nearly counted homes as complete losses because of fire.

The biggest irony for Reid and his siblings is the current evacuation conditions for their family both from the fires in Utah County and back east with Hurricane Florence.

“Three years ago, my sister Karyn (Laxner) moved from Chicago to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina,” Reid said. “She has evacuated back to Chicago because of the hurricane (Florence). She was excited because she lived just minutes from the beach.”

Laxner has a different story about her level of excitement. She actually moved into her current home just four months ago and is in the process of redoing it. Laxner, who is about six miles from the beach, said she could lose all but two of the rooms she has just remodeled. If the other two are damaged, that means the water has reached the second floor.

She is keeping in touch with a neighbor in Myrtle Beach and has received videos of the area. She said they are expecting a surge sometime Saturday.

“We don’t know when we’ll be able to return,” Laxner said.

When she found out about her brother’s evacuation in Utah County, she tried to find a moment of humor. “It’s crazy. Are you kidding, are you competing with me?” she asked Reid.

Reid said he has been on the phone with his sister comparing notes on evacuating and he said that the care he and others are receiving is wonderful. Laxner said she has a neighbor that is taking care of her house and has the key if anything needs to be taken care of.

“People care,” Reid said. “I have a friend from Chicago whose parents are on an extended vacation and invited me to come live in their mansion.”

Reid said he has had more than 20 friends and acquaintances offer complete homes for him to live in while he is evacuated. He ended up with friends in Pleasant Grove.

For a brief few minutes, Reid was able to travel with a sheriff’s deputy back up to his home Friday morning. He had left special medications in his house and needed to retrieve them. As he passed his church and the bottom of the hill leading into the hillside city, he could see several emergency vehicles, firefighters and other first responders. He said he is grateful for everyone who is stepping up and helping.

Reid manages a Woodland Hills Facebook page and is working to continue to keep residents updated on the conditions around their homes and along the hillside.

Horses, animals evacuated

Dale Woolsey, of Salem, was hunting when the fire started moving quickly through the mountains on Thursday.

He keeps his horses at a pasture along the highway between Salem and Payson, and even though the area wasn’t under mandatory evacuation, his wife worried they might not be able to evacuate the horses in time.

“She was worried about the fire, like in California how some guys waited too long before they moved the horses,” Woolsey said.

She, her son and a friend were able to move the seven horses to the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds just as Woolsey returned from hunting Thursday evening.

“Nobody else’s horses have burned up,” he said. “We’re just having an abundance of caution.”

He has trained, bought and sold horses for years but has never had to evacuate the horses because of fires.

“Never had that mountain on fire like this,” Woolsey said.

He plans to keep the horses at the fairgrounds until residents are allowed back to Elk Ridge. Then he plans to move them back to their pasture.

“If your pasture burns up, it’s really good for the pasture but they’ll be just fine,” he said of the horses. “I’ve got hay, I’ll feed them hay until the grass comes back.”

Other evacuees

Elk Ridge residents Jeremy and Lisa Mahoney are among the thousands of people living in uncertainty since evacuating their home late Thursday.

The couple is currently staying in their motor home on a friend’s property, but has no idea how long before they can return to their home even if it is not damaged by the fire. Their security system is offline, meaning they can’t check to see how things are going.

“I’m fine, and then I’m not,” Lisa Mahoney said. “It’s just stuff, but we’ve worked so hard.”

Most of their acquaintances are staying with family in the area, they said, though Lisa Mahoney said one of her coworkers is staying in a hotel.

Jeremy Mahoney said more than anything, he wishes the fire had been dealt with before the strong winds grew it to its current unmanageable size.

“They have got to be more proactive in dealing with fires,” Jeremy Mahoney said. “Instead of waiting until it’s a massive problem then reacting to it.”

Fellow Elk Ridge resident Joyce Collings owns a home on High Sierra Drive, which is “ground zero.” It’s the street closest to Payson Canyon, where the fire has already made it to the ridge.

Collings said she constantly has goosebumps and her heart is in her throat as she waits for news about her home, which she and her husband have spent the last year remodeling.

But at the end of the day, Collings said, it’s all stuff that can be replaced.

“My family’s OK,” she said. “Everything’s OK. My dogs are OK. Everything else can be replaced.”

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