PROVO — The wind-propelled Knolls Fire had already burned one home and evacuated 3,100 others on June 28 when a sheriff’s deputy noticed a concerning development near the fire’s south end.
What looked like a flare-up or even a back-burn started by firefighters caused Utah County Sheriff’s deputy John Thomas to radio into dispatch after 9 p.m.
“Can you confirm with fire and see if they have people just south of the Knolls Fire that just started a new fire?” Thomas could be heard questioning in a police radio recording from that night. “Just had a large flare-up with a couple individuals running away.”
On Monday, the sheriff’s office circulated videos, pictures and police radio recordings from what became the second fire that night burning near Saratoga Springs.
It became known as the Mile Marker 17 Fire.
Sgt. Spencer Cannon said when Thomas learned that there were no firefighters in that area, he drove closer and intercepted a man and woman who were apparently fleeing from the flames.
“They had driven off-road in an apparent effort to get around the road closure and get back to Saratoga Springs,” Cannon said. “They had cut through a fence and driving along they essentially had a crash. They went down into a ravine, got the truck stuck, the truck started to leak gas and it caught fire, and that’s what started the fire there that this deputy had seen.”
Cannon said that the woman had significant injuries.
“The woman, 21-year-old woman, had been severely burned — her head and face and much of her body had been severely burned— but she was doing everything she could to get away from the fire,” Cannon said. “The problem was the fire was catching up to them faster than they were running.”
Under typical circumstances, Cannon said deputies would immediately call in medical help and would not put people with significant injuries inside their vehicles.
However, Thomas did not have time on his side with the fire once again approaching.
“He put them in his patrol vehicle and drove them over to the highway — about a mile’s distance — to get them out of the fire and to a place where medical treatment could be given to them,” Cannon said. “Without his actions, there’s no doubt at all that that fire would have caught up to them, and they most likely would not have survived the fire.”
Cannon said the woman was flown to the hospital and remains there still as she recovers from her injuries.
The 21-year-old man, meanwhile, was cited for suspicion of misdemeanor criminal mischief for allegedly damaging a fence and criminal trespass.
Cannon said, though, the primary concern was helping the two people to get away safely from a potentially deadly situation.
“They would not have been able to outrun it,” Cannon said. “We would have had a totally different story than we’re talking about now.”