Utah wildfire

In World News on September 24, 2010 at 7:10 pm

By: Kristen Hegel

On the morning of Monday, September 20, over 1,600 homes were evacuated in Herriman, Utah due to a wildfire that started as small fire at a Utah National Guard base firing range the evening before. Winds of 40 to 50 mph drove the fire over surrounding mountains and into the Salt Lake Valley.

As fires blaze through woodlands, firefighters and other personal work nonstop trying to put it out. Photo courtesy Washington Post

Artillery training on a shooting range at Camp Williams, a Utah National Guard base 30 miles south of Salt Lake City, sparked the fire that spread overnight. Salt Lake City Mayor, Peter Corroon, and local residents are questioning why firing exercises were being held when the surrounding conditions were dry and windy. Lieutenant Colonel Hank McIntire stated that the winds didn’t come into play until after the fire had started. “There’s always the possibility that some ammunition will catch brush on fire. We felt like we had extinguished it yesterday, then some embers reignited in the wind and it got away from us,” McIntire explained. “That’s when the wind picked up and got it going again, and it rolled through Camp Williams.” The soldiers on the base didn’t have the resources to suppress the fire once it started up again. Lieutenant Don Hutson of the Unified Police Department referred to it as a “perfect storm scenario.” Once the fire grew, the winds became even stronger, sending flames into residents’ backyards.

Besides two firefighters and two policemen with minor injuries, no one has been hurt. Surprisingly, only four homes have been destroyed, contradicting the original prediction that 100 houses would be lost. Homeowners whose houses have burned down have been notified. “If you haven’t been told that your house has burned down, your house hasn’t burned down. What we’re doing our best to do here is to ensure that not only no other houses get burned, but that nobody gets hurt. And then if the wind does change, we’ve already got people out. We don’t want a ton of people back in this evacuated area,” Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder stated in response to worried evacuees. Some evacuees ignored the evacuation warning, but most residents whose homes were in threat left. The Red Cross set up camp in a local high school, Herriman High School. Dozens of residents took refuge and stayed the night where beds and food were provided.

“According to US Forest Service spokeswoman Kim Osborn, the fire has damaged roughly 3,500 acres. “We’re doing all we can to keep everybody safe, it’s looking good now,” Osborn stated. On Monday, five tanker planes released suppressants overtop the fire to help put it out and stop it from spreading further. The National Guard sent in 124 troops and three Blackhawk helicopters to help fight the fire. Now, roughly 350 people are taking part in battling the fire, including the Guardsmen, firefighters and policemen.

The Federal Emergency Management has agreed to cover 75 percent of the firefighting costs, after Corroon declared the fire an emergency. Hopefully the fire comes to an end soon and evacuees can return home. As temperatures and winds decrease, the firefighting efforts are proving to be a success.



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