Ogden wildfire: 'I will make sure nothing happens'

Monday , July 21, 2014 - 10:31 AM

Standard-Examiner staff

OGDEN — 81-year-old Charlene Terkelson wasn't about to leave the home she raised her children in. A fire may have been raging on the mountain side a stone's throw away, but she was resolute.

"I said ’I'm not leaving, I'm going down with this house,’" Terkelson said, recounting her close brush with a Saturday night wildfire, known as the Indian Fire, that torched 50 acres near the mouth of Ogden Canyon and threatened nearby homes.

By about 11:30 p.m. Terkelson was convinced by fire crews who promised she wouldn't lose her home, which sits on the corner of 21st Street and 1850 East. In fact, one of them personally guaranteed it would still be there when she came back.

"He promised her, 'I will park this fire truck in the back of your house and make sure nothing happens,'" said Terkelson's daughter, Gail Terkelson Beazley, growing emotional.

Beazley and her mother then fled the blaze with the help of three police officers who carried out Terkelson's oxygen machine, her medicine and other necessities.

"We were holding things over our mouth, embers were hitting us in the face. ... All we could see were the flames going up," Beazley said. "They were so calm and ... just as sweet as can be."

Beazley considers the firefighters and officers who helped her to be the family's "angels." She didn't get a chance to ask them where they were from in the chaos, but thinks they were responding with Ogden units.

Crews from the Bureau of Land Management, Weber Fire District, Ogden City Fire Department, Mountain Green Fire Department, U.S. Forest Service and Utah’s State Forester variously fought the fire Saturday and Sunday. By about 6 p.m. Sunday, the fire was 70 percent contained, but as many as 65 firefighters are expected to fight smoldering hot spots again on Monday.

"Their body language just tells you they are tired," Beazley said commenting how dedicated firefighters have been. "They have been relentless fighting this. I just wanted to give them a hug."

The wildfire, which left 10,000 Ogden residents without power and caused about 20 homes to be evacuated, resulted from human activity said U.S. Forest Service spokespoerson Kim Osborn. 

There was no lightning activity near the Indian and Bonneville Shoreline trails Saturday, Osborn said, and officials have ruled out weather-related causes. Foul play is a possibility, but investigators are still looking for physical evidence of what specifically started the fire. No campfire materials or discarded cigarettes were reported found as of Sunday evening.  

According to the Ogden City Fire Department, the fire began around 8 p.m. at 1999 Canyon Road and by 9 p.m. had burned about three acres of land above the 21st Street trail head. It continued to flare up throughout the evening and by midnight had rapidly spread to an area above 22nd Street. As the night wore on, strong gusty cross winds near the canyon made putting out the fire difficult as it spread primarily over steep, rocky terrain. The Forest Service initially estimated about 30 acres were affected, but a GPS calculation Sunday indicated the larger 50 acre figure. 

The un-contained portion of the fire is expected to be mitigated without incident and Osborn said she doesn't expect the fire to spread any further. 

"It’s most likely not going to grow,“ she said. ”The conditions aren't right for that to happen.“

Helicopters utilized by BLM and Mountain Green are going a long way to minimizing the fire’s risk, according to Osborn.

Most of the residents affected by the evacuation lived on Buchanan Ave from 1850 S. to 22nd Street. No structures were reported damaged in the blaze, but Rocky Mountain Power shut off power lines near the blaze as a precaution. 10,000 Ogden residents were left without power until at least 3 a.m., Osborn said.

No road or trail closures are currently in effect, but firefighter and public safety officials are asking the public not to use the Bonneville Shoreline Trail from 12th Street South to Waterfall Canyon as crews continue to work.

The American Red Cross was on scene with firefighters helping evacuees who went to an LDS church building at 1550 Rushton Street, if they didn't have anywhere else to go.

"Crews were successful with their suppression and no homes were threatened,“ said Ogden Fire Deputy Chief Eric Bauman on Sunday.

All fire crews from Ogden City Fire left the scene around 4 a.m., while crews from the forest service stayed as command over the fire since it was outside of city limits. 

Ogden City Councilman Doug Stephens was at the base of the affected trails Sunday surveying the damage.  

”A lot of people use the trails up here. It’s used by residents quite extensively. It’s one of the city’s assets,“ Stephens told the Standard-Examiner. ”It’s too bad this happened. Hopefully they’ll be able to resolve (the fire) and find who did it.“

More homes could have been damaged or even destroyed if the winds were blowing the other direction, Stephens added.

”It would have been a real disaster for us,“ he said. 

Ogden resident Goldie Wayment was also observing the scene Sunday. It was disheartening to see the area burned over, she said.

”I do a lot of stuff up there,“ she said. ”I don’t like fire and I really don’t like fire up on my beautiful mountains.“

Contact reporter Ben Lockhart at 801-625-4221 or blockhart@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @SE_Lockhart. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/blockhartSE. 

Reporters Cimaron Neugebauer, Liam Burke and Andreas Rivera contributed to this story.  

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