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Wood Hollow Fire burns 39,000 acres, 25-30 structures destroyed

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MT. PLEASANT, Sanpete County — All Robin Coltharp can do is wait and watch.

"We don't even know if our property is still good or not, if it's burned," she said.

Coltharp's husband used a telescope to get a closer look at the property, which Sunday was about a mile away from area burned in the Wood Hollow Fire.

The wildfire continued to rage Sunday, covering more than 39,000 acres in Sanpete County, destroying between 25 and 30 structures and forcing evacuations of more than 200 homes. At last word, only the fire was only 4 percent contained.

Roughly 360 permanent structures and more than 200 trailers or sheds are threatened, the Summit County Sheriff's Office said.

The Coltharps live in Mt. Pleasant and own 5 acres of land on Baldy Mountain. On Sunday, they couldn't see the mountain through the thick smoke.

"We had plans of building a cabin up there," she said, "perhaps living up there."

It's half my life up there. I've got a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of effort into that place up there.

–- Lynn Warner, resident

But the view from U.S. 89, where officers were turning cars around, wasn't promising for those who live or own property in the area.

"It sure doesn't look good to me right now," said Lynn Warner, of Spanish Fork, who owns 6 acres of land in Oaker Hills.

On Saturday, the Warners were forced to leave their property, where they have trailers, a pavilion, four wheelers and a shed. The family had spent the past three days camping in Oaker Hills.

The Sanpete County Sheriff's Office ordered mandatory evacuations for several areas, including Oaker Hills, Elk Ridge, Indian Ridge, Indianola, Panorama, Big Hollow and Hideaway Valley.

"The evacuations are because the high winds, the dry vegetation and, at this time, the fire is moving toward the homes," deputy Eric Zeeman said.

The threatened homes are on the east and west sides of U.S. 89, between the north end of Hill Top and the county line. U.S. 89 was closed most of the day north of Fairview to the county line.

Roughly 360 homes or other permanent structures were threatened, along with about 215 trailers or sheds, according to the Sanpete County Sheriff's Office.

And with no idea how the fire will behave, evacuees can only hope for the best.

"It's half my life up there," Warner said. "I've got a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of effort into that place up there."

The American Red Cross opened a shelter for evacuees Sunday afternoon at North Sanpete High School.

"We are prepared to keep the shelter open as long as necessary," said Maxine Margaritis, CEO of the American Red Cross Utah Region.

As the wind continued to howl Sunday afternoon, one of the big concerns for firefighters was the town of Indianola.

Just before noon, the sheriff's office ordered evacuations for all residences west of U.S. 89 from Indianola north to the county line. About 2:30 p.m., evacuations that were once voluntary for residents north of Hill Top and east of U.S. 89 became mandatory.

"Flames were up to 100 feet," said fire information officer Don Carpenter. "This fire was running uphill, and the wind was pushing it down."

Many of the evacuated homes are second homes, and residents simply went back to their main homes.


"We were sitting on the patio,” said David Christiansen, who owns a home in Oaker Hills. “About 4:30, my sister-in-law looked over to the west and asked, ‘Is that a cloud or is it smoke?’ It was smoke. It got big immediately. It was fairly windy where we were yesterday, about 10 to 20 mph. The fire was coming right at us. The people who lived there started talking to each other. We all agreed we better get ready to go if we had to.”

Red flag conditions were in effect again Sunday, meaning the fire danger would be extreme with high winds, high temperatures, low humidity and dry fuels, Carpenter said.

He said the fire was "probably human caused" and under investigation, but did not have any other information about a possible cause

The fire began at 4:47 p.m. Saturday, east of the town of Fountain Green, and quickly spread over the Cedar Hills to the east, cresting a high ridge above Fairview and the town of Indianola about 8 p.m.

About 64 personnel were assisting with the fire Sunday, Carpenter said, including two ground crews, one helicopter, two fire engines and five bulldozers.

A tanker plane dropped retardant over the area about 8 p.m. Saturday.

Sanpete County has gone without any measurable precipitation for about two months. Many municipalities in the county have been rationing water for lawns.

FEMA has approved a fire management assistance grant to help with the firefighting costs of the Wood Hollow Fire, according to the Utah Division of Emergency Management. Under the grant, FEMA will reimburse agencies 75 percent of eligible firefighting costs.

Contributing: Pat Reavy, Jared Page and Christian Probasco


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