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One dead in Wood Hollow Fire; Fairview evacuated

By Pat Reavy | Posted - Jun 26th, 2012 @ 6:55pm


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FAIRVIEW, Sanpete County — Search and rescue crews evaluating charred areas of the Wood Hollow Fire discovered a body on Tuesday.

The victim was not identified and no other details were released.

"The (Sanpete County) Sheriff's Office offers its deepest sympathy to all who have suffered loss and is working as hard as it can with the other emergency responders," it said in a prepared statement.

Towns evacuated

The sheriff's office also ordered the town of Fairview to evacuate late Tuesday afternoon because of the unpredictable wildfire. More than 1,000 people live in that town, and will remain evacuated through the night. Officials will reassess the situation Wednesday morning.

An evacuation order has also been issued in the town of Birdseye.

A previous mandatory evacuation order for some areas of Sanpete County were lifted Tuesday morning, primarily for the subdivisions that had not been touched by the fire.

For the residents on the east side of Highway 89 — including Indianola and the Hideaway Valley and Fairview Ranchos subdivisions — their homecomings were filled with both relief and sadness as they thought about their friends across the highway that weren't as lucky.

"It's bittersweet — a miracle for some and a nightmare for others," said Indianola Fire Chief Kent Higgins, who was evacuated from his own home for two days.

But about 2 p.m., strong winds forced the fire back toward the Fairview Ranchos area  where residents had been allowed to return home. Three helicopters, two small air tankers and numerous ground crews rushed out to protect at least five structures, including at least one cabin.

Flames came within about 300 yards of one cabin, but an aggressive air strike appeared to save the structures and pushed the fire north along the Highway 89 ridgeline. Big flames were visible from the highway and a huge plume of black smoke stretched across the road, prompting officials to then shut down the highway about 2:30 p.m.

The initial evacuation area included 359 homes and 215 structures. However, the sheriff's office was unsure how many people were forced to leave their homes nor how many homes are in the area where the evacuation order was lifted.

Others evacuated — including those in the heavily burned subdivisions of Oaker Hills and Indian Ridge where many homes were lost — were hoping to learn by Tuesday evening whether they, too, could return to their properties, or at least be escorted back to their homes to assess damage.


We built everything here from the ground up, my husband and I. And so it is devastating, the thought the other people have been doing exactly the same thing and lost everything. To work so hard, to have it gone so fast … we've spent a lot of time crying. It's sad.

–Kathy Higgins


The Wood Hollow Fire, which has burned about 39,000 acres, is 15 percent contained. The sheriff's search and rescue team planned to survey each of the burned properties later Tuesday to get an exact count of how many homes and other structures had burned.

Officials were still estimating that 25 to 30 houses had been destroyed by the fire, including an estimated 12 to 14 primary residences, and about 50 other structures.

Wood Hollow Fire spokeswoman Dorothy Harvey also expected that the containment percentage would increase once new GPS measurements were taken later today.

Theo Anderson, whose home was evacuated Sunday night, estimated there were 60 full-time residents in Hideaway Valley.

"It was kind of hairy, the fire was right along 89 down there," he said. "I didn't feel too bad (about the fire). I felt like we'd be OK when I left."

If the fire had jumped Highway 89 however, he said, "It would have probably cleaned us out. It would have burned all the way to Highway 6 before it quit."

Kathy Higgins, who has lived in her Hideaway Valley cabin for 10 years, agreed.

"Ours would be gone. Everything would be gone, the whole valley. There wouldn't be anything left here because we are probably in worse shape (because) we have a lot more cedars than the other side. We wouldn't be here," she said.

That's why coming home wasn't a completely happy occasion, she said, knowing what her friends on the west side of Highway 89 were going through.

"We built everything here from the ground up, my husband and I. And so it is devastating, the thought the other people have been doing exactly the same thing and lost everything," she said. "To work so hard, to have it gone so fast … we've spent a lot of time crying. It's sad.


We have to be careful. We feel your pain. We want to get you into your homes as fast as we can, but we don't want to endanger lives.

–Wood Hollow Fire spokeswoman Dorothy Harvey


"I have a lot of friends over on the other side that I know have lost everything. And it's devastating to come back and realize that those people are no longer able to live there and that everything that they have is gone."

Looking from Highway 89, the communities of Oaker Hills and Indian Ridge appeared to be among the hardest hit. Residents of those subdivisions gathered Tuesday along the highway in front of the Indianola Fire Station — just as they did on Monday — to try to spot their damaged properties among the blackened landscape through binoculars and telescopes. The sheriff's office estimated that 14 homes and 50 structures had burned in the Oaker Hills area alone.

Residents in Indian Ridge said there were about a dozen homes in that subdivision and only three or fewer were still standing. The subdivisions of Oaker Hills, Elk Ridge, Indian Ridge, Panorama and Big Hollow — areas that are a mixture of summer cabins, primary residences and horse and livestock properties — have been evacuated since Saturday night.

Rocky Mountain Power late Monday offered what it called a "plausible cause for the fire." The company said a recent copper theft in the region resulted in the removal of critical ground wire, which may have caused a short circuit.

"We are early in the process of fully investigating this incident and any determination as to the cause of the fire should be considered preliminary at this time," the company said in a prepared statement.

Rocky Mountain Power also estimated about 255 customers were without power in Indianola.

"We have to be careful," she said, adding that she understands residents are frustrated. "We feel your pain. We want to get you into your homes as fast as we can, but we don't want to endanger lives."

The area is so dry that there could be some trees still burning underground, Harvey said. She also noted that some of the fire area was being burned twice. The fire burned so fast and hot in some areas, there were still fuels to burn when the wind pushed the fire back into the same area later.

The main focus for firefighters Tuesday was going to be the southeast corner of the fire as well as shoring up the area along Highway 89, she said.

"We want to make sure no matter how erratic the winds, it won't jump the highway."

Deputies also asked residents to "stay packed" in case they are asked to leave again.

The American Red Cross set up a station at North Sanpete High School, 390 E. 700 South, in Mt. Pleasant for those needing shelter and water.

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