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Wanship • The Rockport 5 Fire in Summit County gained speed Wednesday afternoon, burned two more houses and prevented evacuees from returning home.
An evacuation order was extended to 6 p.m. Thursday for about 250 homes spanning the Rockport Estates, Bridgehollow and the Promontory subdivision. Authorities had hoped residents could go home on Wednesday night.
The fire, ignited by a lightning strike Tuesday afternoon near Rockport State Park, had destroyed 14 homes, 20 outbuildings and several vehicles as of Wednesday morning.
No injuries have been reported.
Early Wednesday afternoon, police arrested 74-year-old Robert Weiner after he charged through a road block.
Weiner, a resident of the Promontory neighborhood, approached a sheriff's deputy and said he wanted to reach his home, according to sheriff's Sgt. Ron Bridge. The deputy told Weiner that the area was closed, but Weiner reportedly then drove past the deputy, over plastic cones, and headed to his house.
Bridge said the deputy pursued Weiner and arrested him at his home. Weiner was booked into jail for evading police, a third-degree felony.
Bridge also pointed out that sheriff's deputies are escorting people to their homes to retrieve medication and other supplies on a case-by-case basis, but once residents leave, they cannot return to the evacuation zones unaccompanied.
The Rockport 5 Fire has burned 1,920 acres with 25 percent containment, said Summit County District Fire Warden Bryce Boyer, the fire's incident commander. The flames, fanned by erratic winds, reached as high as 80 feet, and at times the fire traveled up to 100-200 feet per minute.
"Where the fire came through, it was pretty devastating to those homes," Mike Erickson, of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said of the flames on Tuesday. He saw seven of the destroyed homes.
But firefighters were able to save 22 homes that were threatened by the blaze on Wednesday, Boyer said. They also set two controlled burns to create a buffer near homes.
On Wednesday, a staging area for journalists was evacuated about 3:15 p.m. as winds fanned the fire. Flames were seen moving toward homes as air tankers dropped water and retardant. However, firefighters expect higher relative humidity Thursday, said Erickson, which could help.
Boyer hoped crews could reach 50 to 60 percent containment on Thursday.
He said firefighters spent some of Wednesday morning escorting people to retrieve pets that were left on their properties. A property owner in Bridgehollow also took in horses from threatened properties, Boyer said.
Boyer said there were no reports of any injured animals. He added that any residents who wanted to retrieve pets could call Summit County Dispatch, 435-336-3603, to set up an escort with a firefighter, but he cautioned against people trying to return to their properties alone.
Carol Fluckiger spent much of Tuesday in a near panic, starring up at hills shrouded in smoke and and wondering if her home had survived the Rockport 5 Fire. Along with several friends and neighbors, Fluckiger paced an overgrown patch of dirt beside a police road block, unable to reach her home and cut off from any useful information.
But by Wednesday evening Fluckiger was seemed like a different woman as she sat in the driver's seat of her SUV calling family with the good news: her home had survived.
Fluckiger was one of several residents who police escorted into the burned out neighborhood Wednesday evening to retrieve important supplies. The visit only lasted a few minutes evacuation orders remain in place but it was enough.
"I'm feeling pretty good," Fluckiger said along the side of the same road where a day early she paced and fretted. "It's looking better."
But for Fluckiger, "better" was a relative term. While she waited for her husband, she pointed to a guard rail about 40 feet away and said that was how close the fire got to her home. Fluckiger praised the firefighters who worked to save her home, saying they were the only defense between the building and the devastating blaze that reduced at least 14 of her neighbors' homes to cinders.
"We're blessed," she said.
Fluckiger was followed out of the neighborhood Wednesday by Brooks Hansen, who also lives in Bridge Hollow. Hansen and his family live higher up in the neighborhood than Fluckiger and evacuated Tuesday afternoon. He said a sheriff's deputy pounded on the door and told them to leave immediately. The family grabbed a few photo albums, snapped some pictures of the interior to show to insurance agents, and fled.
Like Fluckiger, the family spent the next day wondering if they still had a home. When they finally did get to return, they discovered that the blaze didn't even come close; Hansen said the area around his house wasn't charred and he didn't see any nearby signs that there had even been a fire.
"It was a very pleasant surprise," he added.
Cody Sorenson spent two days beating flames away from homes. And he did it for free.
Sorenson works a day job at Home Depot in Park city but Tuesday afternoon walked out and saw a plume of smoke rising over the valley. Sorenson, a three-year veteran of the North Summit Fire District, soon got a call and responded to the Rockport 5 Fire.
Sorensen said he split his time between spraying water around homes and digging lines in the dirt. He saw flames as tall as 40 feet and was only 10 feet away from the fire at times. It was a battle that involved advancing and retreating over and over as the wind whipped the flames across the hillsides. Sorenson said he and his teammates tried to keep one foot in "the black," or the already-burned out area, just in case thing suddenly took a turn for the worst.
"It was incredible to see what kind of damage it did I such a short lint of time," Sorenson said.
Sorenson spoke about his experiences at the incident command center Wednesday night. He was covered in dirt and sweat. But he said he enjoyed the work because it meant helping people in his own community.
"When we actually are able to save somebody's home it feels pretty good," he added.
Kevin Callahan, emergency manager for Summit County, said the fire was officially declared a disaster by the federal government, meaning they will pay for up to 75 percent of the costs. He is working with the Utah region of the American Red Cross to set up a reception center where residents can meet with Red Cross volunteers and begin talking with insurance companies.
The Red Cross continued to operate two shelter locations one at North Summit Middle School, 64 S. 100 East, in Coalville, and the other at an LDS meetinghouse, 510 Silver Summit Parkway, in Park City.
The Red Cross reported that five evacuees spent Tuesday night at the Coalville shelter.
Displaced residents were urged to call 435-336-3500 or 435-615-3500 for information on when they would be allowed to return to their homes in the fire zone.
Reporter Janelle Stecklein contributed to this report.