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Some residents return as crews battle Alpine wildfire
Alpine • Residents allowed back into 175 homes, but mandatory evacuation orders remains in place for 325.

By Cimaron Neugebauer, Bill Oram, Brooke Adams And Lindsay Whitehurst The Salt Lake Tribune

Published July 5, 2012 3:18 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
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Alpine • Emily Gibb returned to her formerly evacuated Alpine home on the 4th of July to the largest firework show in Utah County — the Quail Fire.

Gibb watched through her window as 20-foot flames burned up the mountain east of her — blackening the once lush, green expanse of pines from the foothills to the peak.

Gibb, her husband and six children, ages 13 years to 9 months, were among residents of some 500 homes who were evacuated Tuesday.

By Wednesday night, about 325 homes remained under evacuation as crews continued to battle the barely controlled Utah County wildfire. Nearly 2,000 acres had been burned and the blaze was only 5 percent contained.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Larry Lucas expressed concern about a cold front expected to arrive about 10 p.m., which could bring strong winds.

"We are going to worry about that," Lucas said. "It's obviously going to keep people on their toes."

But Lucas added that they have received all the resources needed to fight the human-caused Quail Fire, considering that six other fires are burning in Utah. He said Wednesday afternoon that three 20-member hotshot crews were on the ground, and a total of about 300 people were involved in fighting the blaze.

Gibb learned of the fire while driving home from a family trip to Las Vegas. The family was still five hours away when they saw smartphone pictures of the blaze near their home in High Mountain Oaks subdivision.

"You feel like you can't get home fast enough," Gibb said. "You just feel terrified and nervous."

Worried that they wouldn't make it in time, Gibb called and asked her mom to grab valuables from the house. She said her children were worried about LEGOs and toys. Gibb wanted pictures, journals, money and legal documents.

At about 3 p.m., Gibb learned through Facebook and text messages that the evacuation order had been lifted for their home, while her neighbors across the street were still being kept out.

"They let us go back, which is great, I'm happy to be home," Gibb said.

Living so close to the base of the mountain, she said she is thankful for all the firefighters have done.

"I'm just so grateful to them and for their work," she said, as she watched a helicopter dump water over the flames, while two others waited their turn. "They have been going this whole time and I'm so grateful for that."

Crews were aided Wednesday by winds blowing flames up the ridge, away from houses.

"It's in a canyon so it's getting pushed uphill. It's getting funneled. It's doing what it should in these conditions," said fire spokeswoman Cami Lee earlier in the day, though she added that winds could change direction in the evening.

In anticipation of an evening wind-shift, helicopters worked to douse the lower end of the fire, nearest homes, so that the vegetation there might be too wet to burn, officials said.

The Quail Fire grew visibly Wednesday on its southern end, north of Willow Canyon, and by late afternoon had hit timber and engulfed the previously untouched south side of the canyon. Helicopters making water drops and hot-shot crews from Logan and Nevada focused there to prevent the fire from spreading to a subdivision at the bottom of the canyon.

"It's in a draw and they're trying to keep it from getting out of control. It's going to burn because it's a canyon and the wind is pushing it uphill," Lee said. Air tankers aimed primarily at the fire's smoky northern end.

The next draw to the south of the fire happens to be where a fire burned about a decade ago, leaving a large stand of dead trees.

Katrina Walker was another evacuee happy to return home Wednesday, but she remained wary of the fire.

She, her husband Eric, and their five children live in the 400 South block of High Bench Road, and they were cautiously eyeing a dry field behind their home.

"We don't want to be evacuated again, but I certainly see why they have to do it," Katrina Walker said.

Their property was unharmed, including pets they had to leave behind. The family has eight chickens, three dogs, including one they were pet sitting, two cats, two lizards and a dwarf hamster.

"All of them were just fine," Walker said.

She added that her younger children actually enjoyed spending the night, along with seven other evacuees, at Timberline Middle School, where the Red Cross set up an evacuation shelter.

Shianne, 7, skipped down the school hallway shoeless and clutching a banana as her family was preparing to leave.

"She thought it was the best day ever," Walker said.

On Wednesday night, four to seven families were expected to stay at the shelter, said Red Cross volunteer Marsha Hayes, of Park City.

The wildfire started Tuesday afternoon, sparked by a man working with a trackhoe near the Alpine rodeo grounds in Lambert Park, according to the Utah County Sheriff's Office.

But Alpine Councilwoman Kimberly Bryant said Wednesday: "It is not determined what the cause is. As of this morning, it is still under investigation." She added that if there was a trackhoe working in the area, it did not belong to the city.

A barn has been the only casualty of the blaze, although two houses had minor damage, said fire spokeswoman Loyal Clark.

On Tuesday, Utah County sheriff's deputies used aircraft to sweep American Fork Canyon for campers and hikers, and escorted a group of 32 hikers from the Lone Peak trail near an area known as the Hamagogs, spokesman Sgt. Spencer Cannon said. Several groups of campers also were escorted out.

Some of the several dozen people evacuated from the trails were "a little snippy" when they were barred from to re-entering the evacuated area to get their things, Cannon said. But as of Wednesday afternoon, they were allowed to meet authorities at the base of American Fork Canyon on State Road 92 and be escorted into the area.

American Fork Canyon will remain closed through Thursday from the mouth of the canyon to the Cascade Spring/Sundance Junction.

Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday ordered the Utah National Guard to assist. The Utah Army Guard's 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation — a unit that returned last month from a year's deployment in Afghanistan —responded with three Blackhawk helicopters.

"They did an amazing job overnight. We got lucky with the wind," U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, said Wednesday from near the scene of the fire. Chaffetz, who lives in Alpine, said he learned of the fire when he saw smoke coming over the mountains as he was on his way home from a live shot on CNN.

He called the firefighters "just brave men and women doing their jobs."

As for the Gibbs and their neighbors, they are close and usually have a 4th of July get-together. This year they still plan to have a party, but will be at a home outside of the evacuation area.

Gibb said the party will be a simple affair with just light snacks, and — of course — no fireworks.

cimaron@sltrib.com Fire updates

A hotline has been established for information about the Quail Fire • 801-851-8778 —

Rubberneckers hindering fire crews

Gawkers in cars, who have been lining the roads in Alpine to watch the Quail Fire, are being asked to stay away.

Loyal Clark, with the U.S. Forest Service, said police had to be called Wednesday to clear motorists from a street because a Bureau of Land Management heavy brush engine was unable to squeeze past.



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