SPANISH FORK — Thousands of residents in Woodland Hills and Elk Ridge were ordered to evacuate as the Pole Creek Fire crested a nearby peak and threatened homes below late Thursday afternoon.
Ignited by lightning last week along the Nebo Loop Road, the Pole Creek Fire had surged to about 20,000 acres shortly before 10 p.m., fueled by warm, dry and windy weather, fire officials reported. The blaze is 2 percent contained.
Late Thursday afternoon, residents of Woodland Hills and Elk Ridge cities, as well as the Covered Bridge community in Spanish Fork Canyon, were told to evacuate.
"The Pole Creek Fire has reached Santaquin Peak, putting them in greater danger," Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon tweeted. "Evacuees needing shelter or assistance can gather at Salem Hills High School in Salem."
People living in areas of Spanish Fork south of Powerhouse Road have also been told to prepare to leave their homes should the need arise.
Earlier in the day, homes were evacuated along U.S. 89 from the junction of U.S. 6 to Indianola in Sanpete County as flames moved east.
The fire started on Sept. 6 in the Spanish Fork Ranger District in Juab County.
Thursday afternoon, Cannon estimated that about 40 homes along U.S. 89 were in the evacuation area but a "number" of them were unoccupied.
"We tried to get (residents) out as quick as we could, and I think most of them were gone in 30, 35 minutes," Cannon said.
However, one resident refused to leave, he said.
"It's not uncommon to have somebody who says, 'No, this is my castle, I'm not leaving,'" Cannon said.
Cannon said the man told officials if they returned later, he still wouldn't leave.
"There's good reason why fire officials make the decision to evacuate. And the reason they do that is because it's dangerous to them. And if people choose to stay, and they get caught up in the fire and they call for help, then you have to take resources away from the fire to try to help these people," Cannon said.
"We just tell them that it'd be a really, really good idea if you left."
High winds Thursday afternoon prevented firefighters from attacking the fire from the air as the flames spread.
Firefighters from Salt Lake City, Unified fire, Draper, Lone Peak, Provo and West Valley City left Thursday to aid in the battle, officials said.
"Hopefully we will be able to take some of the pressure off of the firefighters that are already working hard on this fire," Salt Lake City Fire Capt. Matt Taylor said in a news release.
A Type 1 fire crew is expected to take over command of the fire on Friday, officials said.
U.S. 89 and U.S. 6 are closed in both directions near the fire, according to the Utah Department of Transportation. The Nebo Loop Road and Nephi Canyon Road are closed at the turnoff from state Route 132 in Juab County while firefighters battle the blaze.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox — who has often tweeted about fires this summer, including voicing frustration about a controlled burn near his hometown of Fairfield that got out of hand — took to social media Thursday afternoon with criticism of the U.S. Forest Service's management of the Pole Creek Fire.
"More inept decision-making by the Forest Service who decided to try and 'manage' this fire and let it burn instead of suppression — during one of the worst droughts in recent history. Now raging out of control, homes are threatened and Highway 89 is closed," he tweeted.
Gov. Gary Herbert also took to Twitter Thursday evening with concern for the many people displaced by the blaze.
"Can't stop thinking about the many Utahns who have been evacuated tonight. If you are in the area, please heed warnings and instructions from officials and firefighters," Herbert wrote.
Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, tweeted her concern as the fire spread.
"My prayers are with the residents of S. Utah county — evacuated because of the runaway Pole Creek fire. My thoughts are with you as I monitor this situation, and I am grateful to the brave firefighters who are working hard to control the flames," Love said.