This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
They're calling it the Machine Gun Fire, a potent and potentially deadly inferno that swept over the Oquirrhs Sunday, taking aim at the City of Herriman and mowing down everything in its path.
But the name is derived not from the characteristics of the fire, but the place it began: the machine gun firing range at the Utah National Guard's Camp Williams Military Reservation. Guardsmen conducting live-fire training exercises in less-than-ideal conditions sparked the flames that have burned thousands of acres and three homes.
This was an accident, but only in the sense that it wasn't intentional. The blaze was both foreseeable, and avoidable.
A National Weather Service "red flag" fire warning had been in effect for northern Utah for more than a day when the conflagration began. All that Guard officials had to do to avoid disaster was cancel the training exercise, and save it for a day when low humidity, searing heat and brisk winds had not turned the fields and forests into tinder.
This is not the first time that training exercises sparked wildfires at Camp Williams. On at least four other occasions in the past 15 years, fires that began on the base were soon licking at nearby homes. But, if the Guard's leaders would exercise better judgment, it should be the last.
At a Monday morning press conference, after a reconnaissance flight at first light, a succession of public officials rightly praised the multi-agency fire-fighting effort.
Public safety officials successfully and safely evacuated an estimated 5,000 people and countless animals from 1,652 homes. Bulldozers worked through the night establishing an effective firebreak. Fire crews set up perimeters around the town, concentrating on saving lives and structures. And when the smoke cleared and the sun rose Monday, Herriman, despite being singed at the edges, was still standing.
Gov. Gary Herbert termed the close call a "miracle." But the fact that the fire occurred at all is appalling.
Should the Guard have known better? Absolutely. And is the Guard at fault? While a multi-agency investigation is planned, the answer an unequivocal "yes" is already known.
But perhaps the better question to ask is if the Guard should continue to operate in an area that, due to residential growth over the decades, is no longer isolated.
Utah is a big state. There are lots of remote areas where troops could train without jeopardizing the lives of local residents. The Guard needs to find one.