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Fires near Jordanelle Reservoir force evacuations

HEBER — Three small fires within Wasatch County turned into a single large fire burning near Jordanelle Reservoir Saturday knocking out power to neighborhoods, closing a highway and forcing evacuations of hundreds of people.

The blaze, called the Fox Den Fire, started at 2:41 p.m. along Highway 40. Fire officials said they did not know what caused the fires.

There were no injuries or reports of damaged structures as Wasatch County called for mandatory evacuations for the Fox Bay Condominiums, the lodge at Stillwater, Star Harbor condominiums and the Jordanelle State Park campgrounds.

Fire officials determined that voluntary evacuations would continue overnight for residents of Deer Crest subdivision and St. Regis.

It was not clear how many people were chased from their homes, but the Red Cross opened an evacuation center at J.R. Smith Elementary school in Heber City, where fewer than 10 evacuees had checked in by late Saturday night. A Red Cross reception area was also established in Park City at the Park City Athletic Center.

"I just barely made it in just to get my dog and to get some clothes and some extra money we had laying around and that was pretty much it," said Jonathan Buckley, who lives in a Fox Bay condominium.

Many of the residents there had only a few minutes to react to the fire before leaving their homes.

Sue Steinman lives at Star Harbor, which is below Fox Bay. The fire was 300 yards from her condominium when she heard the call to leave.

"We heard a bullhorn and I looked out the window and it was pretty smoky and the sheriff was on the radio telling us to get out," she said. "I grabbed my dog and my husband and my purse. I didn’t know what to take."

Rocky Mountain Power reported about 2,000 people experienced power outages in parts of Park City, Heber County and Wasatch County, due to the blaze. Power was restored to all residents by shortly after 10 p.m., according to Rocky Mountain Power officials.

Highway 40 was shut down for much of the day because of smoke blowing across the highway.

Firefighters from Wasatch and Park City fire districts were deployed to the scene. The fire had burned more than 500 acres, according to fire officials and was only 5 percent contained by 10 p.m. Saturday.

The fire was burning below the Jordanelle fire station. Wasatch fire county district officials said fire crews had hoped the fire would burn down toward Jordanelle Reservoir, but changing winds made it a challenge and kept firefighters battling on separate fronts.

The Red Cross added a reception center for Deer Crest evacuees at the Park City Athletic Center. It had also established another center at J.R. Smith Elementary in Heber, located 10 miles east of the blaze on Highway 40.

Saturday's fire is just the latest in a string of fires that have stretched resources across the state. The price tag for fighting the more than 1,000 wildfires that have burned in the state so far this fire season is estimated at $50 million — a number that could climb even higher in the coming months, lawmakers were told Tuesday.

Mike Styler, director of the Department of Natural Resources, said at a meeting of the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee that the state's share of that total would be about $16 million.

The 422,000 acres damaged by fire throughout Utah will require what Styler said is the largest-ever supplemental appropriation for firefighting, some $13 million from the 2013 Legislature plus an additional $8 million to rehabilitate and reseed burned land.

Contributing: Sandra Yi


Twitter: @_JulianReyes_

Video of the Jordanelle Reservoir Fire from KSL TV's Chopper 5 on Aug. 18, 2012.