Utah wildfires destroys homes, forces evacuations
The 12 977-acre Knolls Fire, which caused thousands of evacuations in Saratoga Springs over the weekend, was human-caused, according to fire officials. The Knolls Fire, which started on Sunday, 28 June 2020, was just one of three wildfires that threatened structures and forced evacuations Sunday, evacuations of Saratoga Springs of 3 100 homes some 13 000 residents. The wildfire began west of Utah Lake and gusts up to nearly 60mph pushed it to the south end of Saratoga Springs, forcing the evacuation of more than a third of the Utah County city’s populace. One home was destroyed and a dozen more damaged. The home that burned was outside the city limits, according to Saratoga Springs spokesman Dave Johnson and 12 houses in the city sustained “some damage.” Another 18 properties had fences destroyed, with one losing a shed to the fire. “The assessment is still ongoing,” he said. The Knolls Fire was just one of three wildfires that threatened structures and forced evacuations in Saratoga Springs of 3 100 homes some 13 000 residents. The flames were driven by winds blowing so hard they made it difficult to wear hats or masks. On the evening of Tuesday, 30 June 2020, a total of 13 engines, one water tender, four 20-person crews and three helicopters were fighting the fire, which was smouldering and 75 percent contained. A total of 235 personnel responded to the blaze. The other two wildfires include the Transverse Fire and the Canal Fire.
The Traverse Fire, also in Utah, was caused by caused by fireworks, burned approximately 13 000 and 470 acres and forced evacuations from neighbourhoods of Autumn Hills in Lehi and Maple Hollow in Drape, started on Saturday, 27 June 2020 and was contained on Monday, 29 June 2020.
The Knolls Fire, charring sagebrush and pinyon and juniper trees, began about 13h00 in the area known as the Knolls and by Monday morning, the fire had burned about 10 000 acres. Crews will be working on the perimeters of the fire Monday, according to Kari Boyd-Peak, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management, “and trying to get a better handle on corralling this thing. The continuing rain in the area “will help crews out a lot. Weather’s definitely on our side this morning,” she added.
Jason Curry, with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said Sunday night that the cause of the blaze — initially reported as being started by lightning — was still under investigation. There were no reports of injuries or fatalities. Curry said “dozens” of fire trucks from Utah and Salt Lake counties responded, “probably saving hundreds of homes.”
The winds blew from the south then shifted to the west, he said. That second set of gusts carried more humid air and moderated the fire. Still, the strong winds forced aircraft fighting the flames to stop their work at 16h00.
Two other wildfires, meanwhile, spurred evacuations of their own; in Lehi and Draper and, farther south, in Millard County, where strong winds allowed the Canal Fire to escape containment, scarring more than 1 000 acres and forcing out residents of Fool Creek and Leamington.
Late Sunday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that federal funds had been approved to help cover the costs of fighting the Knolls and Canal fires. “The authorisation makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the state’s eligible fire fighting costs under an approved grant for managing, mitigating and controlling designated fires,” a news release stated. “These grants do not provide assistance to individual home or business owners and do not cover other infrastructure damage caused by the fire.”
The FEMA release said the Canal Fire threatened 60 homes in addition to power infrastructure and $1 million in farm equipment. It also reported that evacuations included “approximately 300 people.”
The Traverse Fire had scorched some 450 to 500 acres by Sunday evening and had required some 200 assets from throughout the state, including a pair of Blackhawk helicopters called in to dump water and douse hot spots, to keep it under control. Officials providing updates on the Traverse Mountain blaze, which sparked home evacuations of neighbourhoods in Lehi and Draper, all expressed some mixture of exhilarated praise for the efforts of first responders and weary frustration at the fact the blaze was ignited by illegal fireworks. “This definitely was a preventable fire,” Lehi Fire Chief Jeremy Craft said. “Just a few seconds lit this fire off. … Fireworks were never allowed up here. This is a restricted area. Simply be respectful. Following the rules would’ve prevented this fire.”
The first 911 calls in the Traverse Fire came in Saturday night around 23h15. One resident recounted being awakened by police pounding on his door, telling him to prepare to evacuate, then seeing flames get so close to property that neighbours busted out their garden hoses for a time, trying to stave off disaster. All of which made everyone involved express bewilderment and gratitude that, as of late Sunday afternoon, not a single building had burned. “If you had told us last night we’d get out of this without losing any structures, I don’t think any of us would have believed it,” noted Lt Gov Spencer Cox, who toured the site Sunday with Gov Gary Herbert.
Kaitlyn Webb, from the Utah Division of Forestry and State Lands, said that environmental conditions would only amplify the potential for additional wildfires going forward. “We have had a much busier fire season than normal already, and the majority of those have been human-caused,” Webb said. “… It’s imperative for people to do their part because our fire conditions are only going to worsen over the next few weeks.”
Craft, the Lehi fire chief, added that “super-dry” vegetation, high winds and the usage of fireworks in a restricted area all added up to “a perfect storm” of conditions, which “combined to make this fire explosive.”
Sources: Salt Lake Tribune, ABC News