This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Cottonwood Heights • Scott Engen called in sick Tuesday morning. But when a neighbor phoned to say he smelled smoke, the 60-year-old resident of Green Hills Drive found himself outside with a number of his neighbors wielding garden hoses against what ultimately became a 15-acre blaze that threatened, but never burned, any homes.
Eventually, fire crews arrived, followed by two Black Hawk helicopters that dropped water on the flames and flying so close to the ground Engen could see the rivets on the copter's underside.
Engen was among a number of residents who ignored several calls to voluntarily evacuate as they continued to do what they could to fight the fire.
"I'm really proud of my neighbors, standing shoulder-to-shoulder to fight the fire," Engen said. "We did this together."
He added: "We weren't leaving until our hair was on fire."
More than five hours later, with the flames knocked down and evacuation orders lifted, a grimy, soot-stained Engen walked over and thanked a couple of resting firefighters.
"These guys are heroes," Engen told The Tribune. "We dodged a bullet here today."
The fire was first reported at 10:13 a.m., as clouds of white smoke billowed from an area near a water treatment plant at 3480 E. Danish Road (8890 South), said Unified Fire Capt. Dan Brown.
The fire burned 28 acres and was 60 percent contained as of Tuesday night, Brown said. Firefighters were remaining onsite overnight to watch the fire for flare-ups, and crews planned to return Wednesday morning to continue dousing the embers.
"We want to make sure to hit every inch to make sure it doesn't rekindle," Brown said.
Wasatch Boulevard was reopened to traffic late Tuesday but would be closed again Wednesday morning to clear the way for the fire crews, Brown said.
Officials said they determined the fire was caused by an exploding underground power transformer.
As a precaution, about 30 homeowners and their families had voluntarily evacuated along Despain Way, Green Hills Drive and Treasure Way as the fire burned through steep terrain covered in native grasses and scrub oak.
Leslie Layton, a Despain Way resident who opted not to evacuate, has a daughter with a home on the same street whose back porch overlooked the fire.
While she never evacuated, Layton said, she could hear crackling sounds from the flames and put her computer in the trunk of her car in case she had to leave in a hurry.
By about 3:30 p.m., fire engines were leaving the neighborhood and water from hydrants was still running in the gutters on Green Hills Drive.
About 100 firefighters from UFA and other Salt Lake Valley fire departments, among them Sandy, West Jordan, South Jordan, Lone Peak and Murray had responded, aided by 30 fire engines and brushfire trucks on the ground, and a fixed wing air tanker and two National Guard Black Hawk helicopters that bombarded hot spots from the air with loads of water.
The fire burned one outbuilding, a detached garage. It never reached any homes although flames had approached within 50 feet of some residences before being turned back.
Of particular concern, as flames buffeted by winds burned north, was holding the fire along Big Cottonwood Creek. If the fire jumped the creek, it could have spread into the tinder-dry Willow Canyon area.
David Ulibarri, a spokesman for Unified Fire, said it appears Utah is having a late fire season a delayed result of May being so wet.
The Cottonwood Heights wildfire is the first along the Wasatch Front this season with the potential for widespread destruction of property.