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Quest for starter of fire in Neola hits a dead end

Blaze was believed sparked by fireworks tossed from a car

VERNAL — A federal investigator has come to a dead end in his search for those who caused a fire in Neola, apparently by tossing fireworks out a car window into stands of dry grasses.

BLM Vernal ranger Wayne Stevens said although the case looked promising at first, he has run out of leads in the search for the person or persons responsible for the 4,047-acre blaze in Neola last Saturday. The fire began on Ute tribal land but quickly spread, consuming state and private property and claiming a handful of structures and building materials while threatening other homes.

Two hunters from Ogden who went to a nearby home to report the blaze had a license plate number, he said, but it belonged to the woman who alerted the hunters and asked them to get help while she chased after a car she saw near the roadway by where the fire erupted.

"She saw the smoke and the car, she flagged down the hunters and had them call it in because she did not have a cell phone. She ran and tried to catch up with them (those who sparked the fire) but couldn't," Stevens said, adding that the woman, who lives in the Uintah Basin, was driving north behind the suspect vehicle and started to pay attention to it when she noticed a "suspicious driving pattern."

The woman described the suspect vehicle as "a cream or yellow sedan. She thought it was for sure a Ford, but it was a smaller car like a Tempo or Taurus," he said.

Stevens said the case is temporarily closed at this point, unless someone comes forward with new information. Anyone who may be able to provide helpful leads in the case is asked to contact Stevens through Consolidated Central Dispatch in Vernal at 435-722-4558.

"I will continue to work it as leads develop, but I have chased all the leads I have. I am sure the insurance company would like to find out who caused this," he said. "Helicopters used to fight the fire cost anywhere from $800 to $1,500 an hour, the $800 is probably on the low end," he said. "An air tanker costs $6,000 a load, roughly, and I know there's at least two or three used on that fire."


E-mail: ubs@ubstandard.com