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JULY 4 BLAZES PLAGUE S.L. VALLEY

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While Fourth of July revelers celebrated, firefighters throughout the valley were hopping from one incident to another.

Extra personnel were on duty to handle the onslaught of calls fire officials traditionally receive on the summer holiday. Most of the calls were reports of grass fires from wayward fireworks from careless handlers.Firefighters fought dozens of field fires Wednesday, including one that threatened several hillside residences.

Homeowners worked shoulder-to-shoulder with firefighters from throughout the valley Wednesday to protect dozens of expensive homes from a fast-moving grass fire that swept up a hillside north of the Capitol.

The fire started on the west slope of the hillside below Victory Road about 4:30 p.m. and flames were licking wood fences, timber retaining walls and pine windscreens within 15 minutes.

"It was scary - the scariest thing that has ever happened to me. I thought we had lost the house," said Tom Cork, 34 Dorchester Drive.

Cork said they were having a Fourth of July party when they saw a blanket of black smoke at the bottom of the hill below their home.

"Once it got into the grass it came up the hill in an alarming rate and threatened all the homes."

Cork said a 30-foot wall of flames, exacerbated by a 35-mph south wind, engulfed everything in its way.

The windswept flames jumped across Victory Road and then raced across the tinder dry grass to Dorchester Drive (900 North), where it endangered more than a dozen homes.

Residents used garden hoses, sprinkling systems and shovels to hold the fire at bay, limiting property damage to a few scorched trees. No one was injured in the blaze.

Despite the 5-foot firebreak that Cork quickly dug around the east fence of the home, a concrete retaining wall, and several friends dousing everything in sight with water, trees close to Cork's home were among the ones singed.

"A garden hose was no match for that," he said. "And if we lose the trees, it's no big price compared to the potential loss."

Salt Lake Fire Batallion Chief Gordon Nicholl said the dry grass on the hillside around the Capitol was "just like gasoline."

A small army of firefighters concentrated on saving the homes, while others tried to prevent the fire from reaching the communications towers atop Ensign Peak.

Nicholl said crews were summoned from throughout the city, leaving other areas without their full contingents of firefighters on what is traditionally one of the busiest fire-fighting days of the year.

Other fires

-Fireworks were blamed for a two-alarm fire that caused about $20,000 damage early Thursday to the Norwood Club, 1726 W. North Temple.

Nicholl said the fire broke out about 12:30 a.m. and took firefighters about an hour to bring it under control. Seven pieces of equipment and about 29 firefighters were on the blaze.

Nicholl said a fight took place earlier in the evening at the club.

"We think the fire started from the outside and burned in and that bottle rockets were fired on to the roof," he said.

Officials believe the fire might have been started by someone taking revenge after the fight. No arrests have been made, but investigation is continuing, Nicholl said.

"We had heavy smoke coming from the rear of the building when we arrived," said Salt Lake Fire Batallion Chief Don Hill. The fire was contained to the roof and attic of the business.

-South Salt Lake firefighters battled another suspicious fire at a camper at 2967 S. State. Although someone had been living in the camper, no one was in it at the time of the fire, said South Salt Lake Fire Chief Bob Adams. The camper was destroyed in the blaze.

-Just as firefighters were finishing that blaze, the roof of a vacant house at 261 E. 2700 South burst into flames. The fire was quickly extinguished and is believed to have started when fireworks got onto the roof, Adams said.

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(Additional information)

Fire danger still high

The Fourth of July is over, but the danger of fires is far from past.

The thermometer rose to a high of 96 degrees Wednesday in the Salt Lake area and was expected to climb to near 100 degrees Thursday.

And, not surprisingly, firefighters are urging citizens to be overly cautious with fireworks.

A forecast for southerly 15- to 25-mph winds Thursday could complicate efforts to fight fires that might break out.

Gordon W. Nicholl, Salt Lake Fire Department battalion chief, said fireworks are inherently dangerous, especially those purchased out of state.

Many of them are aerial fireworks, with operators having no idea of where the fireworks will land or what they will do.

"I confiscated several hundred fireworks - all illegal - last night,"