Utah • Sparked by a car fire, the Rose Crest Fire destroys three houses, forces overnight evacuations and leads to a declared state of emergency almost two years after the Machine Gun Fire.
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Herriman • Friday's Rose Crest Fire, which destroyed three homes, damaged two other houses and multiple outlying structures, plus forced overnight evacuations of more than 900 families, began innocently enough.
Shortly after 3 p.m., when the temperature in Herriman was 92 degrees and the relative humidity a parched 11 percent, a car with a hot exhaust parked on top of some dry weeds across the street from Julie Balazs' home just off Step Mountain Road and set them on fire.
"It came for our house first," Balazs said of the blaze.
Balazs spent Friday morning watching her oldest daughter get married. She spent the afternoon racing around, preparing for a backyard reception.
If it weren't for the crowd of people helping prepare food and flowers, her home might not be standing.
They turned on multiple hoses to help beat back the flames, but the fire grew. Balazs and some others, including her teenage daughter who is confined to a wheelchair, sought shelter in a pavilion behind the home because the structure was near a pond they could jump in if necessary.
But firefighters arrived, began to beat back the flames and saved Balazs' home. "We'll invite the firefighters and do [the reception] again in two weeks, when [my daughter and son-in-law] are back from their honeymoon," she said.
Michael Jensen, chief of the Unified Fire Authority, said late Friday the Rose Crest Fire had at that point burned a little over 350 acres, destroyed three homes and damaged two others along with multiple other structures.
Because firefighters were still wary of hotspots, Jensen said a mandatory evacuation of some 948 houses in an area bordered by 6400 to 8400 West and 13300 to 15200 South, was left in place overnight.
He said authorities hope to allow some residents back into the area on Saturday but were making no promises.
A Type 3 team of firefighters were to arrive to help with the fire Saturday morning, he said.
The Rose Crest Fire burned Friday in the general area where, in September 2010, the Machine Gun Fire sparked by National Guard soldiers taking target practice at nearby Camp Williams consumed 4,326 acres and three Herriman homes, and forced the evacuation of nearly 5,000 people.
At a news briefing Friday night near a roadblock at 13400 South and Rose Canyon Road, Gov. Gary Herbert thanked firefighters, calling their work to save homes, remarkable and cautioning Utahns to take extreme care in not starting any more fires.
"You've got to be careful out there folks," Herbert said. "This is a tinderbox ready to go up."
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon declared a state of emergency due to the fire. He also showed up at the fire scene Friday evening to give support to evacuees.
Capt. Lee Ascarte with the Unified Fire Authority said all jurisdictions within the Salt Lake Valley and even some outside of the area assisted in fighting the fire.
Evacuee Sherrie Ricks, her husband and two kids moved from North Carolina into their brand new home in February and finished the yard just last week. She said the family a couple of weeks ago talked about an evacuation plan so when she learned of the mandatory evacuation order from a neighbor, they were ready.
"We are a preparedness-minded family," Ricks said.
They quickly gathered precious photographs, her father-in-law's Navy cap, family Bible and other items but her greatest worry was her teenage daughter, who was at a friend's house and initially difficult to reach because of police roadblocks.
"Now that I have my daughter back, I'm just fine ...," Ricks said while standing at the 13400 South/Rose Canyon Road blockade. "If my house burns, I know it's going to be fine. I know there will be a few headaches and stresses but nothing really to cry over."
Cove subdivision resident Ella Barlow said she saw the fire from her fifth-floor office in Sandy and headed home. Leaving her vehicle at a roadblock she began walking to her house, caught a ride with a neighbor the rest of the way, kicked in her front door because she didn't have her keys and rescued her five dogs.
Smoke was everywhere by then, Barlow said. "We were able to get out just in time. We don't really care about our stuff. It's really about the pets and our kids."
An evacuation center was opened at Herriman High School, at 11900 South and 6000 West. Late Friday, more than 100 evacuees were there.
During the height of the fire, 16-year-old Mckay Sharp held his dog Tonto in his arms, watching a column of brown smoke climb up and block out the sun.
Sharp was at home when he got a text from a friend asking if he was all right. The teen looked out a window and saw the smoke.
Sharp scooped up photo albums and scriptures and took his dog and brother down to the high school. His mother stayed behind for a time to grab more items.
"By the time she left, the fire was in the field behind our house," Sharp said. "Our house could be burning now."
Evacuee Carrie Choquette was watching her six children and a young niece and nephew when the fire started on the edge of her property, she said. It soon spread to two trees as she rushed to escape. As she left, she thought maybe the flames were burning away from her home, where her chickens, goats and two cats had to be left behind.
She later learned her home had been spared.
Donna Crane was at Walmart with her daughter when she first spotted the smoke. After being kept away from her home during the 2010 Machine Gun Fire, the Cranes raced home to grab clothes and photographs. A neighbor who was kept out of the Cove by police asked if they would grab items for her too.
"She did it for us last time," Donna Crane said.
For many, the scene brought back memories of the 2010 fire.
"This is starting to become a normal thing for us," said Sharp. But with those memories came lessons.
"We were prepared this time because of that time," Jerame Larsen said. "I saw the weather hot, dry. We keep a bag ready. Just grab and go."
A few sat in an auditorium, watching local news. But the most important updates, talk of whose homes have been saved, came from phone calls to neighbors still in the area.
On a concrete box outside the school, Mckay's little brother, Hunter, looked out at the smoke through binoculars as the flames appeared to move over the ridge line.
"I just can't see," he said.
Kurtis Constantine, whose home in Herriman was not threatened by the fire, said he was waiting and watching near his mother's home on Majestic Oaks Drive. In a phone interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, he said they couldn't see her home, but knew at least her nearby barn had burned.
He said his family was able to evacuate, but they had just minutes to leave the house before the flames got too close. Constantine said his stepfather was able to knock out a few fence poles where their 10 horses were kept, but they were not able to evacuate the horses or the six dogs that they own."My step-dad told me that all he has on him is six bucks and his cell phone," he said.
Constantine said Friday's fire brought back memories from the Machine Gun Fire.
"It's just surreal," he said. "It's flashbacks to two years ago when this happened. This time, we didn't get lucky. This time it hit us."
Steve Hunt contributed to this report. Three confirmed homes and one two-car detached garage have been burned.
350 acres have been burned.
Cause • Car fire. Reports of smoke came into city hall
Mandatory evacuation area • Southwest of Rose Canyon Road. Evacuation map found at www.herriman.org
Injuries • No reports of injuries at this time.
Resources • Multiple valley agencies, state resources, air support including two helicopters for water drops and two heavy air tankers for retardant drops. Air National Guard providing 20 wildland firefighters
Donations • Salt Lake County EOC is coordinating donation efforts; please contact 801-743-7158, 801-743-7157
Source: Herriman city