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Pine Valley residents prepare for worst as wildfire grows

PINE VALLEY, Washington County — All of Pine Valley remained affected by voluntary evacuation orders Friday as the wildfire threatening the area continued to grow.

The lightning-caused Saddle Fire reached 1,193 acres and was still growing Friday, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Cigi Burton.

The fire broke through a "retardant line" designed to keep it from the east side of Forsyth Canyon, meaning flames were visible in the hills above Pine Valley, Burton said. Thick smoke hovered over the area Friday.

In all, about 500 homes have been issued voluntary evacuation orders. The homes closest to the fire are only about a half-mile away, Burton said. The fire was 5 percent contained Friday evening.

Melody Windover, a Pine Valley resident, packed her SUV on Friday and planned to drive to a hotel in St. George with her daughter. Her husband is currently out of town, she said. Windover is also putting some of her treasured belongings in a storage unit for safekeeping.

"We have one road in and out, and we're in a valley surrounded by a mountain full of trees, and fire (is) unpredictable," she said. "So we are just putting all of our trust in the Lord and in the firefighters because we can't control anything."

Despite the worrisome figures and the Saddle Fire's close proximity, U.S. Forest Service officials said they're feeling good about the measures in place to defeat the wildfire.

"The suppression plan is still valid, and (firefighters) are still confident in their strategies and tactics," the agency said in a statement Friday.

The Pine Valley Recreation Area remains closed and the town itself is closed to everyone but those who own property there. Fire managers have told residents to be prepared to leave if evacuations become mandatory.

Burton said about 500 personnel from Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, North Carolina and Florida are assigned to the fire. Firefighters planned to attack the flames with retardant Saturday morning from the air, though they didn't do so Friday in a strategic decision to allow the fire to burn back on itself.

"We are still actively engaging this fire," Burton reassured.

The fire is centered about 2 ½ miles southwest of Pine Valley, where it is raging on steep mountain slopes. It remains inaccessible to ground crews. Firefighters are also grinding down trees and brush in the area around Pine Valley to keep the fire away from the town, and firetrucks are being placed on each street to watch for stray embers.

"The brushy fuels on lower slopes remain green enough to slow the fire’s spread downslope," the Forest Service statement said.

The agency also reported the wind was pushing the fire away from homes Friday afternoon. However, the weather can change quickly and make the fire unpredictable, Burton said.

"It’s just something we have to prepare for," she said.

Fire officials said the Saddle Fire likely won't completely stop burning until there is rain in the area.

Contributing: Ladd Egan

Email: blockhart@deseretnews.com

Twitter: benlockhartnews