Officials: Fireworks spark Utah wildfire, evacuations

The Traverse Fire burns near homes in Lehi, Utah, Sunday, June 28, 2020. Officials say fireworks caused the wildfire and forced evacuations early Sunday morning. (Justin Reeves via AP)

LEHI, Utah (AP) — Fireworks caused a wildfire in Utah that forced out residents of houses and an apartment building early Sunday before crews managed to turn back the blaze as it encroached on a neighborhood, officials said.

A suspect was cooperating with law enforcement, Utah Fire Info said in a tweet. Fireworks are prohibited in the area.Strong wind gusts had been reported in the Lehi area as the Traverse Fire grew to about 450 acres (200 hectares), the agency said.

It died down significantly midday Sunday. However, more strong winds were forecast and some evacuations would remain in effect until the threat of the fire flaring up again had passed, officials said.

Photos showed the fire erupting in the background of a residential area and behind a large church. Evacuations were ordered in Lehi and Draper.

About 20 homes were in imminent danger when crews first arrived. Early morning rain helped tamp down the flames and no structures were considered threatened by midday, Lehi Fire Chief Jeremy Craft .

The fire-scarred hillside above the community is now at increased danger of mudslides, he added. That could threaten houses if heavy rain occurs before the vegetation can grow back, Craft told the Deseret News.

A high school gym in Lehi and a middle school in Draper were offered as shelters, according to tweets from the cities.

No injuries and only minor structural damage were immediately reported. The Red Cross said the Draper shelter was closed after about 40 people who sought assistance were no longer there.

Dangerous fire conditions were forecast for Sunday afternoon through Monday across parts of Utah. Projected gusts of up to 50 mph (81 kph) and low relative humidity levels mean any fires that start could rapidly spread.

Rocky Mountain Power tweeted that about 7,500 customers lost power.

Lehi is about 28 miles (45 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City.

Craft told the fire started at an “opportune” time of high fire risk. Fireworks are prohibited in the area.

“Super dry fuels, all of the sudden we get kind of a dry wind storm that comes in, and this thing was explosive,” the fire chief said. “It’s unfortunate that this incident happened. It caused a lot of people a long, sleepless night.”

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