Residents that were evacuated from Summit Park, Upper Pinebrook and Timberline were able to return to their homes Tuesday evening after a downpour of rain.
Fires throughout Utah have been prevalent this summer during extreme drought. While many fires have been nature-caused, human-caused fires can also be prevented through following simple steps.
Evacuations and a “wake up call”
According to KSL.com, 6,000 to 8,000 homes in the area were threatened by the blaze. By Sunday, the fire had covered about 619 acres, and residents in these areas were evacuated.
Summit Park resident Martin Drayton said the fire started near an overlook behind the area of Summit Park. The fire got within 3/4 of a mile to the homes in Summit Park.
Drayton said a concern of the fire marshals when the fire first started was that the wind could blow embers from the fire up to 10 miles. With the extra dryness of the grasslands because of the drought, he said little spots of separate fires in different areas had been started from the embers.
With fires spreading, fire marshals and firefighters were concerned for the safety of the residents and an evacuation was put into effect. All residents from Summit Park, Upper Pinebrook and Timberline were evacuated out of their homes on Sunday.
On Sunday afternoon, Drayton read Twitter updates about the fire online and decided it would be best to start packing and getting ready to evacuate.
Drayton said he packed all of his valuables, including important documents and family pictures. As Drayton and his wife loaded the car, fire marshals came around and knocked on all the doors telling everyone to evacuate their homes.
Driving away from their home and to a hotel for the next few nights, he could see several neighbors refusing to evacuate. He and his wife waited in the hotel with their packed belongings to hear more news about the fire and when they could go back home.
“The realization that you might not see anything in your house ever again, to think that all the stuff might just disappear — it’s a bit of a wake up call,” he said.
According to KPCW, a public radio station in Park City, the fire had been 40% contained by 6:55 p.m. on Tuesday night.
An announcement was then sent out on Tuesday evening that residents of Summit Park, Upper Pinebrook and Timberline could all go back to their homes according to KSL.com.
Drayton was surprised when he and his wife heard they could go back home on Tuesday. The firefighters said with the combination of wind and rain, it would be highly likely that all the evacuated residents would not be going back home before Thursday.
However, with the pouring rain Drayton and his wife were able to go home. He said experiencing an evacuation at this scale helped him to appreciate more of what other people are going through.
“You hear about fires and refugees and it makes you realize how lucky you are,” Drayton said.
Complying with local law enforcement
Public Education Specialist Andrew McCormick from the Utah State Fire Marshal’s office said the fire was caused by “a motorist with a faulty catalytic converter that sparked dry bush when emitting hot particles along the side of the road in several places.”
McCormick said that the cause of the fire is still being investigated and could change.
With an evacuation, McCormick recommends anyone who is asked to evacuate to comply with directions from local law enforcement.
McCormick said the fire service personnel know it’s not an easy task to ask people to leave their homes, however they only do so when they have evaluated the threat to be serious.
“Our first priority in any fires is the preservation of human life,” said Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Ted Black.
Black said anyone’s first inclination is to protect what they have and that is why some residents are unwilling to comply with evacuating. He said this doesn’t anger any of the personnel because they understand how the residents feel. However, Black said complying with the personnel by evacuating is the best thing people can do for themselves, their neighbors and the firefighters.
Ways to prevent human-caused fires
Black said human-caused fires are down 50% this year and Utah citizens have been doing a great job in preventing fires from starting, and deserve to be commended. However, Utah citizens still need to keep on playing their part in preventing fires.
The drought, he said, has made the grasslands drier, which makes it more susceptible to fire. “One rainstorm like the one we had today will not end the drought.”
Black said there are some people who will say the drought is over because of the heavy downpour over these last two days. However, he said it will take a lot more rain and snow over several years to end the drought. “Just because we have some rain doesn’t mean that we should stop being vigilant.”
Black said dragging chains when pulling a trailer and throwing cigarettes out the window could be factors in starting a fire.
When camping, anyone who starts a campfire needs to make sure it’s completely out, Black said. Charcoal briquettes must also be disposed of properly, and everyone should follow all of the restrictions while camping.
Following these simple steps can prevent human-caused fires from happening.