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Officials becoming optimistic in battle against combined Utah County fires

SHARE Officials becoming optimistic in battle against combined Utah County fires
Smoke from the Pole Creek Fire fills the air in Woodland Hills, Utah County, on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018.

FILE - Smoke from the Pole Creek Fire fills the air in Woodland Hills, Utah County, on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. The Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires officially merged Monday to form one large wildfire, according to the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.

Qiling Wang, Deseret News

PROVO — The Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires merged Monday to form one large wildfire, growing to about 86,000 acres. But during a community meeting following a day of firefighting, officials shared their optimism that crews will vanquish the flames.

"I have full faith that they will do what they need to. Resources are in place to fight the fire. … Hopefully tonight, this was just a good chance to say 'hi' to all our neighbors," Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith said Monday evening to a crowd of residents at Springville High School.

More than 2,000 homes and 6,000 people have been evacuated. The Pole Creek Fire was 23 percent contained late Monday, while the Bald Mountain Fire was at 0 percent containment.


Diamond Fork, Sheep Creek and Right Fork Hobble Creek Canyon were added to the mandatory evacuation list on Monday. Left Fork Hobble Creek was put under pre-evacuation status, according to the sheriff's office.

All residents of Woodland Hills, Elk Ridge and the Covered Bridge community near the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon have been out of their homes since they were ordered to evacuate last Thursday.

During Monday night's meeting, one resident asked if more crews and equipment are en route to help fight the flames.

FILE - Smoke from the Pole Creek Fire fills the air in Woodland Hills on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018.

FILE - Smoke from the Pole Creek Fire fills the air in Woodland Hills on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018.

Qiling Wang, Deseret News

Incident commander Marty Adell, of the Type 1 team managing the fire, said when the blaze jumped U.S. 6 Sunday night, more crews were ordered and will arrive in the next one to three days, along with more engines.

"We're looking at approximately another 400 people," the incident commander said.

One woman asked why it can take days for additional resources to arrive and how many crews were currently there.

Adell said that more than 1,200 firefighters were battling the two fires Monday and that additional crews are traveling from other states. Engines are "slow-moving" and "made to drive up mountain roads," he explained.

"I've got to tip my hat to the community at large," Adell said. When the fire jumped U.S. 6, "one thing that stuck out to me was firefighters already had a dozer line built," he said.

One resident asked whether they will be able to make more than one trip to collect their belongings when evacuating, or if they will be "rushed out."

An official answered that if conditions are safe, people will be able to make multiple trips to their homes while they prepare to evacuate.

Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon urged people to follow evacuation orders.

"If a person or family or whomever becomes impacted by an evacuation, heed that. There are a couple of people who have said, 'I'm not going anywhere,'" Cannon said.

"If fire behavior continues as it has … you need to be ready to go," he said.

The fires joined Monday in the Covered Bridge area, where firefighters are "doing a tremendous amount of work for structure protection," Adell said earlier Monday afternoon during an upate at the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds.

"We've got several crews of task forces of engines in there setting up hose lays and reducing some of the fuels around that small community," Adell said.

In addition to the new evacuation orders, several other areas remained closed or evacuated as of Monday. Santaquin Canyon, Payson Canyon and Nebo Loop Road at state Route 132 in Nephi Canyon are closed.

U.S. 89 in Spanish Fork Canyon is also closed at Thistle Junction to the line between Utah and Sanpete counties. A mandatory evacuation remained in effect for all residents along U.S. 89 from Nebo Creek to Thistle Junction, as well as Right Fork Hobble Creek Canyon, which is also closed.

Evacuated residents who need to get to their home for medications or to remove pets or livestock can meet at 11200 South Woodland Hills Drive and 11200 South Elk Ridge Drive (1600 West), where a deputy will escort them to their residence.

On the north end of the blaze, fire crews have been able to build a dozer line around communities including Payson Canyon and Elk Ridge, according to Dan Dallas, operations section chief for Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team.

"So that gives us a really good control feature that we feel good about," Dallas said.

He said the line will help firefighters control the blaze if it becomes "more active" and starts moving closer to communities.

Incident commander Todd Pechota said less wind and better air Monday helped firefighters' efforts.

"Our team, the firefighters on the ground, truly understand what those evacuations do to the public and they are working so hard to try to get those areas so secure so we can get people back in as soon as possible," Pechota said.

Gov. Gary Herbert took to Twitter Monday afternoon to recognize the firefighters for their work on the flames.

"Was very impressed by the coordination and hard work on the #PoleCreek and #BaldMountain fires today. We have an amazing team of firefighters, and astoundingly well-prepared communities. It will be a long haul, but I trust our teams," he wrote.

"So good to see a slight change in the weather today. Better wind conditions enabled fire teams to make more direct aerial attacks on the fires," he later tweeted.

Residents can sign up to receive alerts about the fires at alerts.utahcounty.gov.