With over 120,000 acres burned between the Pole Creek Fire and the Bald Mountain Fire we were busy this month. This blog post contains some of my favorite images (fire related) from the past few weeks. It also provides a quick summary of the events with links to the articles at heraldextra.com.
Our first reporting came when the Pole Creek Fire grew to 400 acres. The fire wasn’t in Utah County yet, but it was moving toward the county line quickly. The day after, the fire had erupted in size and was threatening communities. We were able to be on the scene for a good portion of the day. We cancelled other assignments and scoured the area in an effort to document the uncertainty in the early part of the day, when the cities were in pre-evacuation status and evacuation, which came in around 6:00 p.m.
The process was hectic and slightly messy in the beginning. There was misinformation and a bit of guessing from residents and officials who were working to navigate the unfamiliar territory of a fire creeping in closer and closer to the cities. A favorite image of mine comes from the construction being done on a house in Elk Ridge near the canyon. The fire was continuing to move closer, but construction didn’t stop.
The following day, the complexity of the fires and the precarious situation that the cities were in was becoming clearer. There were initial estimates of over 5,000 people being evacuated from the communities threatened by the wildfires and there were winds still creating red flag conditions. Resources for those fighting the fires continued to grow as more teams arrived and more aircrafts made their way to the area.
There were predications of more growth coming and the fire was said to have been as close as a quarter-mile and a fail-mil from city boundaries. Even with the approaching fire, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office continued to escort individuals and families to their homes to take medicine and pets out of the evacuation zone.
A resident of Elk Ridge removes a box from his house as firefighters are stationed down the street during the Pole Creek fire on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018.
As the fire continued to grow and draw in more resources, there was a frustration on how the initial fire, which started from a lightning strike, was handled. This was because the Bald Mountain Fire was started as a single tree, which was allowed to burn, and then expanded when resources and focus moved to the Pole Creek Fire.
The Pole Creek Fire crossed U.S. Highway 6 and started to move towards Diamond Fork Canyon and Sheep Creek, which were then placed under evacuation. The initial evacuees from Woodland Hills, Elk Ridge, and Covered Bridge area in Spanish Fork Canyon were told to expect a couple more weeks of evacuations. The resources on the fire continued to grow and there still had not been a home damaged by the fire. The major issue that was presented to the community was a loss of cattle. The free range cattle in the area of Diamond Fork and Hobble Creek were rounded up in large efforts, but there are still reports of significant loss of cattle to some ranchers.
As the crews continued to gain containment on the fire, media was allowed on tours to observe some of the fire damage and meet a few firefighters that were working the fire. It was nice to get a bit closer to the action, because of the distance that we were accustomed to with covering these two fires.
As the wildfires developed and impacted communities in Utah County, we continually were out photographing, interviewing, attending community meetings, and working to create an informational and easy to understand article that provided contextual information and helped our readers see what was happening.