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Herriman firefighters pleased with progress, concerned about forecast

   |  Posted Sep 20th, 2010 @ 10:05pm


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Status report as of 10 p.m. Monday:

  • 4,300 acres burned
  • 450 homes evacuated
  • 3 homes destroyed
  • 25 percent of the fire contained


HERRIMAN -- Firefighters are continuing the battle to snuff out the Machine Gun Fire before winds whip up again Tuesday.

Crews have been fighting the flames in the south end of the Salt Lake Valley since Sunday afternoon. More than 4,000 acres are scorched and thousands of people remain evacuated of their homes.

Firefighters make progress containment

Fire officials now say they have 25 percent containment over the fire. In a Monday night press conference, officials said only two areas of concern remain.

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"We're still focusing our efforts on the east flank and the west flank of the fire, which have the most potential for the rest of the evening," said United Fire Authority spokesman Mike Bohling.

All day, an armada of fire assets, airplanes, helicopters, fire engines, bulldozers and hand crews fought to get the upper hand on the blaze. The main goal for crews on the scene was to build the fire line around the blaze.

"We've got three heavy air tankers that have been flying over the fire. We've [also] got two smaller air tankers [fighting the fire]," said Kim Osborn, with the Unified Fire Authority's type 3 incident management unit.

Gov. Gary Herbert and others toured the area by helicopter Monday morning and called it a miracle that more homes weren't burned. Herbert said when he went home around 1:30 a.m. he feared 25 to 100 homes would burn. He praised crews for saving all but three homes overnight, especially those who used bulldozers to build a fire break next to the flames.

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Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, also toured the area, praised firefighters and described seeing homes intact but with charred debris and brush around them.

Tuesday, fire crews plan to intensify their efforts as they face an ominous weather forecast.

"On a level of 1 to 10, how worried are you about tomorrow?" a reporter asked Unified Fire Authority Chief Michael Jensen Monday.

"I'm a 10 if it goes into tomorrow," Jensen replied. "That's why we're aggressive as we are today."

The forecast calls for more high winds, similar to those that blew the flames out of control Sunday afternoon. UFA said it plans to bring 20 fire engines and additional manpower to keep the fire from moving back toward Herriman, or even east into Bluffdale.

Though crews don't foresee more evacuations right now, they're holding off on lifting current evacuation orders until they can see what the wind does.

Some mandatory evacuation orders remain

Meanwhile, about 5,000 residents were affected by mandatory evacuations.

According Herriman City spokeswoman Nicole Martin, as of 10 p.m. Monday 450 homes remained under mandatory evacuations. Those homes are all within five subdivisions: Hi Country II, Majestic Oaks View, Rosecrest (South of Emmeline Drive), and Lookout Ridge.

Earlier in the day, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said residents from the middle of the evacuation area with a specific need to return to their homes should go to the fire station at 6000 West and 13100 South. Police will determine on a case-by-case basis whether to escort them to their homes for a short time.

Winder said simply wanting to check on their houses is not enough to warrant the resources at this time.

"If you haven't been told that your house has burned down, your house hasn't burned down," he said.

Police confirmed some residents refused to leave their homes. Winder said anyone found in an evacuation area without permission could face arrest.

The sheriff said widespread looting is not an issue and affected residents' property is safe.

Several resources available to help Herriman residents

The American Red Cross said 83 people spent Sunday night at an evacuation site at Herriman High School. The evacuation sight has now been moved to the LDS Church at 4501 West 11800 South.

7 schools to reopen Tuesday
School officials have confirmed that the following schools will reopen Tuesday morning:
  • Herriman High
  • Fort Herriman Middle School
  • Butterfield Canyon Elementary
  • Herriman Elementary
  • Foothills Elementary
  • Silver Crest Elementary
  • Providence Hall Charter Elementary

Residents who have been evacuated are asked not to call 911, but to instead call Herriman City Hall at 801-446-5323. Updates are also available on Twitter at Be Ready Herriman.

Information from the American Red Cross is available by calling 801-323-7000.

No residents have been injured in the fire, but two firefighters were hurt. One was taken to a hospital, received stitches then returned to the fire line. The other received a scratch to his eye and was sent home to recover.

There is no monetary estimate yet on the damage caused by the wildfire, but fire officials say it will definitely reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Three homes and an outbuilding were destroyed in the fire. Several sheds, recreational vehicles and at least one water pump house were also damaged or destroyed.

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Story compiled with contributions from John Daley, Shara Park, Sarah Dallof, Paul Nelson and Andrew Adams.

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