Crews report progress on Sanpete fire

Jun 26 2012 - 4:50pm

Images

An American flag is visible Monday, June 25, 2012, at the entrance to what's left of a cabin owned by Tammy and Chuck Lance in the Oaker Hills neighborhood near Mount Pleasant, Utah. A wildfire has destroyed at least two dozen homes in the area and threatens 300 more. (AP Photo/Lynn DeBruin)
Justin Sanderson takes a moment Monday, June 25, 2012, to admire the view in central Utah while wildfires were raging behind him. Numerous cabins in the Oaker Hills neighborhood were destroyed by the Wood Hollow Fire, which was only 15 percent contained by late that night. (AP Photo/Lynn DeBruin)
Cody Emerine surveys some of the destruction Monday, June 25, 2012, after a wildfire swept through the Oaker Hills neighborhood near the central Utah town of Mount Pleasant. The Wood Hollow Fire has destroyed at least two dozen homes but was only 15 percent contained by late Monday night. (AP Photo/Lynn DeBruin)
Chunk Lance comforts neighbor Kellie Sanderson Monday, June 25, 2012, after they viewed an area in central Utah that was devastated by a wildfire. Lance's cabin in the Oaker Hills neighborhood of Sanpete County was destroyed but Sanderson's survived. (AP Photo/Lynn DeBruin)
A stream of melted aluminum from a burned-out car is visible on the ground Monday, June 25, 2012, in the Oaker Hills neighborhood near Mount Pleasant, Utah. A wildfire has destroyed at least two dozen homes in the area and threatens 300 more. (AP Photo/Lynn DeBruin)
An American flag is visible Monday, June 25, 2012, at the entrance to what's left of a cabin owned by Tammy and Chuck Lance in the Oaker Hills neighborhood near Mount Pleasant, Utah. A wildfire has destroyed at least two dozen homes in the area and threatens 300 more. (AP Photo/Lynn DeBruin)
Justin Sanderson takes a moment Monday, June 25, 2012, to admire the view in central Utah while wildfires were raging behind him. Numerous cabins in the Oaker Hills neighborhood were destroyed by the Wood Hollow Fire, which was only 15 percent contained by late that night. (AP Photo/Lynn DeBruin)
Cody Emerine surveys some of the destruction Monday, June 25, 2012, after a wildfire swept through the Oaker Hills neighborhood near the central Utah town of Mount Pleasant. The Wood Hollow Fire has destroyed at least two dozen homes but was only 15 percent contained by late Monday night. (AP Photo/Lynn DeBruin)
Chunk Lance comforts neighbor Kellie Sanderson Monday, June 25, 2012, after they viewed an area in central Utah that was devastated by a wildfire. Lance's cabin in the Oaker Hills neighborhood of Sanpete County was destroyed but Sanderson's survived. (AP Photo/Lynn DeBruin)
A stream of melted aluminum from a burned-out car is visible on the ground Monday, June 25, 2012, in the Oaker Hills neighborhood near Mount Pleasant, Utah. A wildfire has destroyed at least two dozen homes in the area and threatens 300 more. (AP Photo/Lynn DeBruin)

 

 

 

 

 

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Tammy Lance had already come to terms that the cabin she and her husband built was gone, burned up in a raging wildfire that quickly has charred nearly 40,000 acres in central Utah.

 

But when she heard a kitten's helpless cry from beneath a burned-out truck, she lost it again.

"I hate seeing anyone in pain, especially without their mother," Tammy Lance said through tears Monday night, the smallest in the rescued litter of four cradled in her arms, its paws and striped fur singed.

Lance and husband Chuck, along with another couple from Oaker Hills, had driven the family Kia down a cattle road Monday to sneak a peek at what was left of their little slice of heaven, constructed amid the cedar, juniper and sagebrush.

While some cabins and trailers in the area somehow managed to escape the wall of fire that raced through the area Saturday night into Sunday, most of the news wasn't good.

"When (the fire) came, it was a big, black cloud that settled to the ground," Chuck Lance said. "And when it raised, everything was gone. Crazy. I've never seen anything like it in my life."

Thirty-six hours later, the ground was still smoldering with hot spots, trees were charred and numerous cabins that served as either mountain retreats or year-round residences were burned beyond recognition.

Firefighting officials said more than two dozen homes in Sanpete County have already burned in the Wood Hollow Fire. They're beginning an inventory to determine whether additional structures have been lost.

As of Tuesday morning, the fire was only 15 percent contained, but officials say they made progress overnight and predicted that number would grow significantly throughout the day.

Gov. Gary Herbert arrived by helicopter Monday to survey the fire, which had already burned more than 60 square miles. Damage estimates have mounted to $7 million.

David Christensen estimated his loss at $125,000, including a cherished mirror from the 2002 Winter Olympics.

He and his wife had invited relatives up for the week, and had just settled in on the patio late Saturday afternoon.

"My sister in law looked on the horizon and said, 'Is that a cloud?"' Rosemary Christensen recalled.

Everyone else turned immediately and recognized it as smoke.

Within hours, they would lose whatever they couldn't pack.

While the Christensens stood along State Route 89 on Monday night, and peered west toward the burning hills, the Lances wanted a closer look.

Driving the gravel road, they came upon one 5-acre plot with the charred wreckage of a half-dozen vehicles, tiny rivers of melted aluminum now solidified on the ash-covered soil.

When they finally arrived at their own land, a large American flag was still flapping in the wind.

"It may not look like much, but it was," Tammy Lance said of a destroyed cabin.

She pointed to where there used to be a large stack of firewood.

"We'd come up here all winter long, and the kids would go tubing," she said.

In the distance swing sets sat empty around what used to be a fire pit, a spot for the entire family to gather at night, and sing with help from a karaoke machine -- one thing they managed to save in the short time before the fire raced over the hill.

Actually they managed to save something else -- a neighbor's home, dousing flames that flickered at the stairs of Kellie and Justin Sanderson's cabin the first time they came back to survey damage.

On Monday night, the Sandersons finally saw firsthand that their cabin had been spared.

"I don't know how we're good, but we're good," Kellie Sanderson said. "It's a miracle. Yet how can you be happy when your neighbors are devastated? My poor 72-year-old father-in-law has nothing left and he'd come up here every weekend. I'm happy for us, but it won't be the same."

As they continued on their tour, the men in the group spotted other flames shooting up around trees near a home still intact. They made shovels from corrugated metal and dumped dirt and water to douse it.

It was the least they could do.

Chuck's hands were black with soot and burned in spots, but a gallows sense of humor prevailed.

"You have to laugh, or you have to cry," said Chuck Lance, who works in retail merchandising in Payson, Utah.With the calendar still reading June and tinder-dry conditions everywhere, they know the fire situation figures to get worse.

"This is going to be a long, hot summer," Herbert said, warning Utah residents that "if you start the fire, you're going to be liable to pay for the fire."

The losses in the Wood Hollow Fire also include several dozen sheep, although no other injuries have been reported.

More than 1,000 people had been evacuated from the area, although residents on the east side of Highway 89 were allowed to return to their homes Tuesday morning after officials said it was unlikely the flames would jump the road.

Investigators were still trying to determine what caused the fire. So far this year, the state has recorded 402 wildfires, many of them caused by people starting illegal burns or target shooting in drought-wracked areas.

"It's not only frustrating, it's aggravating," Herbert told reporters at a news conference. "We're smarter than that in Utah."

He said costs are likely to mount as the state heads into the primary fire season, when lightning strikes could touch off fires and stretch resources thin.

Elsewhere in the state, firefighters were battling the Church Camp Fire in Argyle Canyon, about 20 miles south of Duchesne. Crews said they had no containment on the blaze, which sparked Sunday and stood at about 1,000 acres Tuesday morning. Authorities said more than 80 structures were threatened and some had been destroyed, but they didn't know their types or locations.

 

 

 

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