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A big fire is burning in the hills above Payson tonight. It has come within feet of several homes and has sent Boy Scouts and homeowners scrambling to safer ground.
The fire started this afternoon, possibly by a downed power pole, and has grown to 200 acres. In the past half hour, we have watched the fire explode. It's been jumping anywhere from a quarter-mile to a half-mile, spurred on by winds that seemed to start right as the sun went down.
Firefighters haven't ordered any new evacuations, beyond the 14 original ones, but they say that could all change in a minute, depending on the winds.
Kathy Moore returned from work tonight only to find she couldn't return home. She said, "Yeah, we watched it burn the whole mountain." Her house is one of 14 that has been evacuated. "It's pretty overwhelming, pretty scary," she said.
The fire, which started around 4:00 this afternoon, has kept crews busy, jumping across the mountains. At one point, it split into two.
Sgt. Spencer Cannon, with the Utah County Sheriff's Office, said, "We had a long, wet spring, and now we're in a hot period that just dries everything. All the growth that came up because of the wet spring certainly is adding to the problem of what's burning in front of the flames right now."
Two air tankers and two helicopters were called in to help calm the flames and, hopefully, the evacuees nerves. "We've been really grateful for the firefighters and their quick efforts, and keeping it away from all the homes," Moore said.
The tankers and helicopters can't fly at night, so right now ground crews are alone in fighting the flames.
The fire forced hundreds of Boy Scouts to end their summer camp a night early. They were evacuated and left in such a hurry, they left all their gear behind.
Camp Maple Dell is about two miles away from where the fire is burning, but the fire was burning so fast this afternoon, the alarm sounded and the Scouts were evacuated.
Scout leader Brady Sines said, "We were all in the amphitheater watching the games and all of the kids out in the canoes, and over your left shoulder you could see the smoke coming up over the mountain. And they definitely had a plan, because the alarms sounded and it was the real deal."
The gate to Camp Maple Dell is locked up tonight as the camp remains evacuated due to the fast-moving fire, which is just over the mountain from the camp.
In all, more than 450 Scouts, visiting from throughout Utah, were in Maple Dell when the evacuation order was given. The scouts were taken to a LDS chapel in Payson, and after everyone was accounted for, were sent home.
Dave Johnson, the camp director of Camp Maple Dell, said, "At this point it is still a pretty good distance away from us, but as I said, as a precaution we went ahead and evacuated anyway."
Scout officials will monitor the situation and, when the danger is over, the scouts, who traveled from as far away as St. George will be allowed to return to pick up their camping gear.
Payson Canyon has just been closed, and deputies are evacuating anyone camping from the Maple Bench to the mouth of the canyon.