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Fire near Strawberry Reservoir burns homes, forces evacuations

FRUITLAND – At least 300 homes have evacuated the 30,000-acre Dollar Ridge Fire near Strawberry Reservoir, and some are presumed lost.

Gov. Gary Herbert, R-Utah, estimates that up to 30 homes and buildings could have burned. He toured the destruction on Tuesday in one of four National Guard Blackhawk helicopters on loan to fight the fire.

“So we were able to fly above and around the fire to see the flame and see the smoke, and the wide devastation that’s taken place here,” Gov. Herbert said.

The governor also met with evacuated families in Duchesne, and thanked neighbors and volunteer groups for helping them.

He reminded reporters at the Duchesne County Fairgrounds that humans have started 92 percent of Utah’s wildfires, like Dollar Ridge, this year.

 

“With your ATVs, don’t park your hot engines over a patch of weeds,” Gov. Herbert said. “Only do a campfire in a designated campground.

“A lot of this is just common sense,” he added, and that wildfires are largely preventable.

The Governor urges residents to stay out of their neighborhoods for their own safety, until evacuation orders are lifted.

The fire burned out of control on Monday and was too dangerous even for 150 firefighters on scene.

“We haven’t been able to put crews on the line,” Jason Curry, a spokesman with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands said. “Aircraft have been ineffective, if not dangerous with the winds and the smoke.

“The aerial assessments have shown us very little because of all the smoke cover.”

Curry adds some of the 300 evacuated buildings have burned, but investigators cannot tell which ones. He was shocked the flames spread as fast and far as they did.

“Our aerial observers were seeing long-range spot fires going out as much as half a mile ahead of the fire,” Curry said.

More crews are arriving Tuesday, hoping to do real firefighting today. Steep terrain, high winds and heat won’t help them.

Meanwhile, Marcia Sweat quickly grabbed her late father’s pictures, light fishing rods, journals, and collection of flashlights from the cabin he built.

“I can’t get everything because I can’t get them in the car,” she said through tears. “My dad past away seven years ago on Saturday.”

Right until they evacuated, Sweat’s family pulled weeds and moved dirt.

“Just hope and pray for everybody that nobody gets hurt,” she said. “I know some will lose their homes and things. It’s really hard.”

People in 300 homes fled to Fruitland’s LDS Church and Duchesne High School, among other places.

No word on when they can go home, although Strawberry Reservoir and the roads surrounding it remain open.

As for today’s weather here: highs in the low 80s with just 20 percent humidity and wind gusts up to 35 miles per hour.