With restless flames jumping toward their homes Monday night, residents of Eastview Drive knelt in a circle on Tom Dell'Ergo's front lawn and prayed.
Then with a few prized possessions and life-defining documents, the 25 to 30 people headed for the Alpine Stake Center, now an evacuation area. Jill Hertig, 980 N. Eastview, said neighbors left their homes with a calm feeling."We just packed genealogy, picture albums, tax returns and birth certificates," Hertig said. "Everything else can be rebuilt."
After 90 minutes of waiting and wondering, residents' prayers were answered.
"I've got some announcements," Alpine Police Chief Dan Jones said, summoning the displaced families into the church building's cultural hall about 11 p.m. "Most of the news is good."
Jones told residents they could go home. The danger had passed. Residents clapped and cheered. The blaze threatened about 94 houses and caused about 200 people to seek shelter elsewhere. Some houses in the area are valued in the millions of dollars.
"I think we're all very grateful," Hertig said Tuesday morning. Her home wasn't burned, but she said she needed to go through the house with carpet freshener.
Although the flames were mostly dead when families returned, the neighborhoods were alive with activity. Many homeowners watered down their houses and yards to guard against potential flare-ups. The unpredictable wind stopped blowing about midnight but picked up again early Tuesday.
There were no flames visible when the sun came up.
Late Monday, John Nield, 1126 N. Elk Ridge, estimated flames were 50 feet high in the thick oak brush.
"They were roaring up in there," he said. "There were flames ripping just up the street from us." Nield and several others spent two hours digging a trench around the Mark Grant home. Propane and gasoline tanks sit on the property.
Then the wind shifted.
"We ran down the hill with smoke pouring left and right," Nield said.
Thick smoke covered Alpine. Paramedics treated four people for smoke inhalation. Flames consumed only one structure, a wood shed.
Grant never left his home.
"It's amazing how much fire you can keep down with a simple garden hose and the right nozzle," he said. Flames torched some bushes that line his driveway. A nearby roadside was charred.
Chris Lindsay fought the fire at his parents' home on Elk Ridge Lane. "It got hairy at times. We were picking our routes to run," he said. Only a few small trees on the property caught fire.
Peggy Watkins, 1005 N. Grove Drive, also watched the erratic winds change the fire's path.
"You could just see it shift and move, and all of a sudden `poof.' That's what was scary," she said, waiting helplessly at the LDS church building. Her husband, Don, stayed behind to dig fire lines.
Don Watkins said people who live in homes on ridges need to understand the fire potential.
"When we build in an area like this, that's something we have to weigh awfully heavy," he said.
Loyal Clark, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman, said the blaze spared four homes because they were landscaped in ways that kept flames away. The oak brush was cut away from the property, and the driveways were wide enough to allow fire engines near house. Woodpiles near those houses burned.
Flames surrounded Colin and June Grant's home at 1352 N. Fort Canyon Road. After squirting the roof with a garden hose, June Grant rounded up a couple of idle fire trucks to come to her house.
"If they hadn't got up there, I'm scared to think what would have happened," she said.