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Quail Fire burns in hills above Alpine, evacuations ordered


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ALPINE — A fast-moving fire threatened homes in Alpine Tuesday, burning a barn and prompting officials to evacuate 500 homes.

The fire also caused heat damage to a couple of homes and came frighteningly close to several others.

The fire, dubbed the Quail Fire, erupted near Lambert Park outside of Box Elder Canyon and moved northeast into that canyon, away from most nearby houses and structures. Smoke could be seen rising above the mountain in Draper and in southern Utah County Tuesday afternoon.

Evacuations

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for all residents living east of Alpine Boulevard in Alpine and unincorporated Utah County.A total of 80 homes were evacuated, and those residents were directed to gather at Timberline Middle School, where the Red Cross was setting up a makeshift shelter.

Jon Kirk, a Red Cross volunteer, said volunteers were serving dinner.

American Fork Canyon was also closed and deputies were combing the canyon, evacuating campers and residents of cabins and summer homes in the Tibble Fork reservoir area.

State Route 92 is closed as well.

A fast-moving fire

The fire is burning in an area near a popular Dry Creek Trail. Flames 20 feet or higher were seen racing up in the canyon and up the mountainside.

"It's really moved really fast, faster than I would have expected," said Reid Shelley, with the U.S. Forest Service. "Even without the wind and the steep slope, it's moved faster. I mean, it's just extreme fire behavior."

Crews work to stop the Quail Fire burning in Alpine Tuesday, July 3, 2012. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
Crews work to stop the Quail Fire burning in Alpine Tuesday, July 3, 2012. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said the fire may have been human-caused.

“The information that came in initially … is that it was caused by a track hoe, an individual working on a track hoe area," he said. I don’t know if there were sparks or … just the heat of the machinery itself.”

As of 7 p.m., the fire had burned between 1,200 and 1,500 acres. None of it had been contained, but firefighters were making progress, said Forest Service spokeswoman Loyal Clark.

Black Hawk helicopters from the Utah National Guard, two heavy air tankers, one small air tanker, four helicopters and several engines from the forest service and surrounding communities were assisting in the firefighting efforts.

“We've been fortunate so far that only one outbuilding (a barn) has sustained some damage. But to this point, anyways, no homes have been damaged, although there have been a lot of threats to homes,” Cannon said.

No homes or structures were in danger as of 7 p.m. "The wind is blowing the fire away from any homes and any structures and burning up towards the mountain," Clark said. "We have cliff faces, granite rock that is causing a natural barrier to the fire."

Residents flee the flames

Suzanne Davis, who lives on the Alpine/Highland border, said there seemed to be a lot of people who drove to the area to watch the fire burn. She wasn't too worried about losing her home, however, since the fire was heading in another direction.

"I don’t see it coming down the mountain. I don’t see it headed toward any structures, coming towards Highland,” she said. “I have seen once in a while a flare up, but I did see a plane come and drop the retardant down and that has slowed down the fire."


It's heart-wrenching to sit there and watch the flames march ever-closer, wondering if it's going to go or not.

–Doug Parrish, Alpine resident


Alpine resident Doug Parrish said he noticed about 2:30 p.m. that the light coming into his house turned yellow. He looked outside and saw smoke.

“I called to my wife and I said, 'I think we're going to have to get out of the house.' About that time, we realized that the wind was coming our direction, and we weren't really sure if it was going to take the house or not. “

Parrish said the recent fires prompted him to think about what he'd have to do in the event of an evacuation. “We had a couple of grab-and-go kits and we threw our 72-hour backpacks in the car and kits that had some of our precious things in it. And so we drove away and sat over here on a hill and watched," he said.

"Every time the fire would advance, we were just thinking, 'Please wind, blow further east.' If it would have been another 5 degrees further to the west, I think we would have lost the house.”

He was philosophical about realizing what things are most important.

“What goes through my mind is that there are irreplaceable things and there are valuable things. The irreplaceable things are our lives and treasures, everything else fire insurance policy will cover, I suppose," he said. "But it's heart-wrenching to sit there and watch the flames march ever-closer, wondering if it's going to go or not.”

The Quail Fire rages in Alpine Tuesday, July 3, 2012. (Photo: Chelsie Clarke)
The Quail Fire rages in Alpine Tuesday, July 3, 2012. (Photo: Chelsie Clarke)

Ryan Smith's parents live in Alpine Cove but were out of town Tuesday. They called him and asked him to retrieve important documents and their pets from the home.

"It's too dry. People aren't safe," Smith said. "Even when you are the safest, it's not safe to light fireworks."

Ryan Johnson said he was coming home from an activity with his family when he saw the chaos from the fires. He was retrieving photos and other items from his parents' house when officers approached.

"The police came, frantically evacuating everyone, knocking on the doors," he said, but added there was one scene that concerned him.

"I saw one cop shoot at a neighbor's dog (that had been barking loudly). It was a Labradoodle. The neighbor was pretty upset about that. I think some of the police were overreacting," Johnson said. "That shot heightened everybody's tension."

Ironically, Johnson said he had discussed preparing his parents' house in case of a fire just hours earlier.

"Just last night, my mom said, 'Hey, can you and your brother help us clear out some of the brush and trees for fire danger?'"

Mark Woolsey of Hauula, Hawaii, flew in Tuesday morning to stay at his father's house, which is about ¾ of a mile from where the fire started.

"First thing I said when I came in this morning was that with no rain, it's just a matter of time before a fire breaks out in this area," said Woolsey, who was on his way to Philmont, N.M., to train with Boy Scouts. "I was just about to take a nap when my dad said, 'You gotta come up and see this.'

"The fire just got bigger and bigger, and finally it just went right up the mountain."

"We're evacuated almost yearly because of tsunami scares," the Hawaii resident said. "What do you put in your car to take?"

Government response

Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who visited many of the major fires in Utah this past week, lives on the west side of Alpine and was home when the fire broke out.

“It’s a big one and it’s getting worse,” he said. “There aren’t as many homes in danger as in Sanpete County or down in Saratoga Springs, so there hasn’t been what’s call an FMAG issued yet, which would give some federal funding.


Reid Shelley with the U.S. Forest Service said a type 2 incident management team has been called in to fight the fire, which will bring more resources.

“A lot of what is burning right now is on Forest Service land, and we need federal assets to try to put a hamper on it.”

Fire Management Assistance Grants come from federal monies that the state has paid into an insurance program. The financial assistance is available to help pay the cost of fighting fires and provides a 75 percent federal cost share for the actual costs that are incurred.

Alpine Mayor Hunt Willoughby said Tuesday's fire was something that he and other city officials have feared would happen but had tried to address.

"We did the complete ban on all open fires and fireworks a week or so ago based on the fire chief’s recommendations. The fire and the conditions that have been around it have been so dangerous that we thought it best to do that.”

Reid Shelley with the U.S. Forest Service said a type 2 incident management team has been called in to fight the fire, which will bring more resources.

This type of incident extends beyond the capabilities for local control and is expected to go into multiple operational periods, according to the Federal Emergency Management Association website. A Type 2 incident may require the response of resources out of area, including regional and/or national resources, according to FEMA.

"We're getting thin" on personnel to fight the fire, Shelley said.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert also called on the Utah National Guard to assist with the firefighting efforts.

Contributing: David Self Newlin, Andrew Wittenberg and Alex Cabrero


View Alpine Evacuation area in a larger map

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Jeff Finley

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